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Russian armored vehicles move on Crimea base

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- AP journalists in Crimea have spotted a convoy of nine Russian armored personnel carriers and a truck on a road between the port city of Sevastopol and the regional capital, Sinferopol.

The Russian tricolor flags were painted on the vehicles, which were parked on the side of the road near the town of Bakhchisarai, apparently because one of them had mechanical problems.

Russia is supposed to notify Ukraine of any troop movements outside the naval base it maintains in Sevastopol under a lease agreement with Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said movements of armored vehicles belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet were prompted by the need to ensure security of its base and didn't contradict the lease terms.

A duty officer at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it had no information about the vehicles' movements.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Ukraine accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" on Friday, saying Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports on its strategic Crimea peninsula. Russia kept silent on the accusations, as the crisis deepened between two of Europe's largest countries.

Any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine's conflict, which saw pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych flee last weekend after three months of anti-government protests. Yanukovych vowed Friday at a news conference in Russia to "keep fighting for the future of Ukraine," though he called any military action "unacceptable."

Moscow has vowed to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea, where it has a major naval base, and Ukraine and the West have warned Russia to stay away. Russia did not confirm its troops were involved in Friday's action in Crimea, which would be a major escalation.

In Kiev, Ukraine's parliament adopted a resolution demanding that Russia halt steps it says are aimed against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis.

"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Ukraine's newly named interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote in a Facebook post.

The chief of Ukraine's security council, Andriy Parubiy, seemed to strike a less strident tone later in the day, saying gunmen had tried to "seize" the airports in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol but insisting in comments to the Interfax news agency that "de-facto the airports are controlled by the law enforcement bodies of Ukraine."

Ukraine's State Border Guard Service also said about 30 Russian marines from Russia's Black Sea Fleet - which is based in Sevastopol - had taken up position outside the Ukrainian Coast Guard base in the area. It said the marines said they were there to prevent any weapons at the base from being seized by extremists.

Russia's defense ministry had no comment.

Yanukovych made his first public appearance since fleeing Ukraine in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border. It was the first confirmation that he had left the country, and he said he was "forced" to do so only after his family received threats.

"I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine," he said.

Yanukovych said he supports Crimea's residents who are worried about "nationalists" in Kiev and added that Russia cannot stand by while events in Ukraine unfold. He denied, however, that this amounts to a call for military intervention.

"Any military action in this situation is unacceptable," he said.

The prosecutor-general's office in Kiev said it would seek Yanukovych's extradition to Ukraine, where he is wanted on suspicion of mass murder in last week's violent clashes between protesters and police, during which over 80 people were killed.

Associated Press journalists approaching the Sevastopol airport found the road leading up to it blocked by two military trucks and a handful of gunmen wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles.

A car with Russian military plates was stopped at the roadblock. A man wearing a military uniform with a Russian flag on his sleeve got out of the car and was allowed to enter on foot after a brief discussion with the gunmen.

At the airport serving Simferopol, commercial flights were landing and taking off despite dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolling with assault rifles. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

One man who identified himself only as Vladimir said the men were part of the Crimean People's Brigade, which he described as a self-defense unit ensuring that no "radicals and fascists" arrive from other parts of Ukraine. There was no way to verify his account.

The airport deployments came a day after masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag. Ukrainian police cordoned off the area but didn't confront the gunmen. They remained in control of the buildings Friday.

The Russian foreign and defense ministries had no comment. Russia's state RIA Novosti and Interfax cited an unnamed official from the Russian Black Sea Fleet denying involvement, saying Russian servicemen stationed in Crimea have not moved into the airports and denying that the Russian military was in control there.

Tensions between the two countries were high, however. Russia continued with massive combat readiness exercises involving most of its troops in western and southern Russia that it said were unrelated to the Ukraine conflict. The moves were reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

The Kremlin, in a statement published late Thursday, said President Vladimir Putin had instructed the government to "maintain contacts with the counterparts in Kiev in what concerns trade and economic ties between Russia and Ukraine."

Moscow has been sending mixed signals about Ukraine but pledged to respect its territorial integrity. Putin has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine, a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization, closer into Moscow's orbit.

Meanwhile, Swiss prosecutors announced they had launched a criminal investigation against Yanukovych and his son Aleksander over "aggravated money laundering." They said police and Geneva's chief prosecutor conducted a search and seized documents Thursday at the premises of a company owned by Aleksander Yanukovych.

Switzerland and Austria both said they would freeze any assets Yanukovych and his entourage might have in those countries.

Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support.

Crimea, a southeastern peninsula of Ukraine that has semi-autonomous status, was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, and was once the crown jewel in Russian and then Soviet empires.

It became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In a bid to shore up Ukraine's fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund has said it is "ready to respond" to Ukraine's bid for financial assistance; Ukraine's finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default.

The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

And Putin, in his statement, asked his government to "hold consultations with foreign partners including the IMF and the G8 nations to provide financial aid to Ukraine."


AP reporters Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Maria Danilova and Karl Ritter in Kiev and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
rich0151 February 28 2014 at 5:23 PM

There is nothing the U.S., Europe, NATO, the or U.N. can do to prevent Russia from doing whatever Putin decides. The only help Ukraine can look for is from themselves; good luck with that. It's a set of circumstances we in the U.S. had better get used to seeing. Pax Americana - if it ever existed - has long departed and the majority of the world sees it as a sign of a better world. Let them have it; we'll be hard pressed to preserve our own way of life thanks in large measure to our over-investment in the world-at-large.

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1 reply
sandinbox rich0151 February 28 2014 at 7:19 PM

we've got enough fire power to blow their imperalistic asses to kingdom come.

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crarob February 28 2014 at 11:35 AM

The direct outcome of Obamaism...gutlessness on the world stage. "After the election I'll have more flexibility."

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kcarthey February 28 2014 at 8:13 AM

The historic basis for the existance of what is known as "Russia" is Kiev. Long before there was Ukraine, Moscow, St. Petersberg or even Russia, there was Kiev and that is where it all started with the Nevskis first defeating the Mongols from the East and then the Teutonic Knights from the West. The basis of modern Russia is in "Little Russia" and not to understand that is to have failed history.

The Union retook the Confederacy. Perhaps modern Russia will retake Ukraine, though I hope not with such poor results as occured to the Union.

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1 reply
vladswim kcarthey February 28 2014 at 8:15 AM

that is why Ukraine is part of Russia, and the people who live there, whether they are for or against the Russians, need to know

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1 reply
sandinbox vladswim March 01 2014 at 2:16 AM

vladswim and kcarthy...two russian communist....Kiev has always been in Ukraine. "Ukraina means borderland.....The kings moved to moscovy which eventually became Russia. Kcarthy you have failed to understand history the basis of modern Russia is Kiev, Ukraine and not the other way around.

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endmillll February 28 2014 at 8:19 AM

I look at it this way its better them then us getting involved ,, maybe we can worry about mexico invading us like they been doing.

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1 reply
pro41willys endmillll February 28 2014 at 8:45 AM

Good luck on that one.....those coming across the border are quaranteed votes for the lib-ards....and they are not going to do anything substancial on immigration.....other than to greet them and hand out freebee's the rest of us work for.....its just fact.

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joe February 28 2014 at 10:29 AM

Putin isnt good here or there. In America we have things call rights and that are things we are aloud to do and we have people making laws witch takes our rights away witch also are made every day that takes our rights away. Whats the difference we just do it slower here.

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1 reply
certiik joe February 28 2014 at 11:05 AM

if you are creep you have all right if you are good guy you have to just pay your dues.

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evd0918 February 28 2014 at 9:15 AM

Looks to me, they are armed women!

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1 reply
mngnman evd0918 February 28 2014 at 9:25 AM

ya and they still would kick your ass

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patiodaddy February 28 2014 at 9:13 AM

Something isn't right with the Pictures you have provided. None of these Soldiers have Magazines in their Ak-47's and the Ammo pouches are empty as well. Hmmmmmmm...............................

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shadowdew55 February 28 2014 at 9:12 AM

Kinda reminds me of NAZI Germany invading Poland. HAY RUSKIES PAY RENT IF YOU WANT TO USE THIS LAND..$40,000 ,000 SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT.

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thosholzel February 28 2014 at 4:24 PM

Come-on, everyone. Is there the slightest smidgeon of doubt that the Russkis will take over at least the eastern half of the Ukraine? And that no one will be able to do anything about it--except, of course, "Send a message" and "hold those accountable"?

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1 reply
Bob Shelley thosholzel February 28 2014 at 6:43 PM

If our politicians have their way and can reduce our troop strength to under 500K troops we won't even be able to patrol our own borders let alone help South Korea, Israel, or any ally when they are invaded by hostile forces. Still... it is ALL the fault of the American people who sit on their collective asses and let this happen.

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rbflash46 February 28 2014 at 8:06 AM

that,s easy..shoot the bastards,,,then see where they came from

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