Ukraine: Crimea state could become independent state
The Crimean parliament has voted that the Black Sea peninsula will declare itself an independent state if its residents agree to split off from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum.
Crimea's regional legislature adopted a "declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea". The document specified that Crimea will become an independent state if its residents vote on Sunday in favour of joining Russia in the referendum.
Western nations have said they will not recognise the vote as legitimate. But the move might be used as an attempt to ease tensions with Crimea existing as a self-proclaimed state without Russia moving quickly to incorporate it into its territory.
After a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, some leaders in Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia also asked to join Russia, but their request was never granted.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's acting president called for the formation of a national guard and for the mobilisation of reserves and volunteers into the country's armed forces.
Oleksandr Turchynov asked the national parliament to approve turning the country's interior ministry troops into a National Guard "to defend the country and citizens against any criminals, against external and internal aggression".
Mr Turchynov said that the mobilisation will include those who have previously served in the army and volunteers.
Russian forces have strengthened their control over Ukraine's Crimea region in the run-up to a referendum set for Sunday on whether to split off and become part of Russia.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who will fly to Washington DC to meet with Barack Obama on Wednesday, called on Western nations to defend Ukraine against a nation "that is armed to the teeth and that has nuclear weapons".
Meanwhile Ukraine's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, accused the country's new government of fomenting civil war.
Mr Yatsenyuk asked Russia, the US and European Union member Britain to abide by a treaty signed in 1994, in which they pledged to guarantee Ukraine's security in exchange for giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
"We are not asking for anything from anyone," Mr Yatsenyuk told parliament. "We are asking for just one thing: military aggression has been used against our country. Those who guaranteed that this aggression will not take place, must from the one side pull out troops and from the other side must defend our independent, sovereign state."
Parliament is due to vote on the motion on mobilisation and the appeal to the West.
Mr Yanukovych, speaking in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, repeated the Russian claim that the new Ukrainian authorities are kowtowing to radical nationalists, and that they posed a threat to Russian-speaking eastern regions.
Mr Yanukovych, who fled last month after months of protests, also said he will soon return to Ukraine.
Also today, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it was sending a new team to observe military developments in tense regions of Ukraine after pro-Russian forces rebuffed previous attempts to monitor Crimea.
The 57-nation organisation said that the new team's mandate has been extended beyond Crimea to eastern Ukraine.
Like Crimea, parts of eastern Ukraine have a large ethnic Russian population. Pro-Russian forces have secured many of Crimea's military installations as the region prepares for a referendum on whether to join Russia.
The request from Ukraine for the team to also monitor the east appeared to be prompted by fears of similar developments there.
The European Union, meanwhile, has proposed a package of trade liberalisation to support Ukraine's economy, unilaterally abolishing almost all import tariffs on Ukrainian products in a step that is expected to save the country's exporters 500 million euros (£417 million) annually.
The measure comes without asking Ukrainian concessions in return.
The decision still requires approval from the European Parliament and the bloc's member states, but that is widely considered to be uncontroversial.