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Ukraine on brink of war as Putin claims right to invade

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Stand-off: Ukrainian troops defend an infantry base in Crimea. Photo: AP

Stand-off: Ukrainian troops defend an infantry base in Crimea. Photo: AP

Stand-off: Ukrainian troops defend an infantry base in Crimea. Photo: AP

UKRAINE mobilised for war yesterday, after Russian president Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade, creating the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

"This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country," said Ukraine's prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk, head of a pro-Western government that took power when Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych fled last week.

Putin has obtained permission from the Russian parliament to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine, spurning Western pleas not to intervene.

Russian forces have already bloodlessly seized Crimea – an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base. Yesterday, they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, although no shots were fired.

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Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the land border, but so far they have not crossed.

However, pro-Russian demonstrators have marched in the east of the country and have raised Russian flags over government buildings in several cities, in what Kiev says is a move orchestrated by Moscow to justify a wider invasion.

Ukraine's security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on the highest alert, the council's secretary Andriy Parubiy announced.

The defence ministry in Ukraine was ordered to conduct a call-up of reserves – theoretically all men up to 40 in a country with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for significant numbers of them.

"If President Putin wants to be the president who started the war between two neighbouring and friendly countries, between Ukraine and Russia, he has reached this target within a few inches. We are on the brink of disaster," Mr Yatseniuk said in televised remarks in English, appealing for Western support.

Meanwhile, in Kiev's Independence Square, where anti-Yanukovych protesters had camped out for months, thousands demonstrated against Russian military action. Speakers delivered rousing orations and placards read: "Putin, hands off Ukraine!"

One protester said: "If there is a need to protect the nation, we will go and defend the nation. If Putin wants to take Ukraine for himself, he will fail. We want to live freely and we will live freely."

Eastern areas of Ukraine saw demonstrations yesterday after violent protests on Saturday.

For a second day, pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisted flags at government buildings.

After Mr Putin declared he has the right to invade, US president Barack Obama spoke to his Russian counterpart by phone for 90 minutes.

"President Obama has clearly expressed his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law," the White House said.

Ukraine has made an appeal for help to NATO, and directly to Britain and the United States, as co-signatories with Moscow to a 1994 accord guaranteeing Ukraine's security after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

HNEWS@HERALD.IE


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