Ukraine border guards warn of Russian armored vehicles amassing (LIVE BLOG)



Pro-Russian self-defense activists stand guard in front of the Crimean Cabinet of the Ministers in Simferopol on March 2, 2014. Armed pro-Russia men who had besieged Crimea's local parliament mysteriously vanished on March 2 but were still standing guard outside the regional government, as the capital of Ukraine's restive Black Sea peninsula remained calm but tense.


Genya Savilov

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UPDATE: 3/3/14 9:45 AM ET

Global stocks waver over threat of war

Reuters — The rising threat of war between Ukraine and Russia sent investors scurrying for relative safety on Monday, pushing stocks down sharply — the Moscow market fell 11.5 percent — and lifting gold to a four-month high.

US investors were set to add their weight to the move at the open, with stock index futures all down around 1 percent and benchmark US Treasury yields down 5.5 basis points.

Geopolitical ripples from Putin's statements about sending troops into Ukraine, which included condemnation from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations and the threat of sanctions, spread through markets, hitting Russian assets the hardest and forcing the Russian central bank to aggressively raise interest rates.

Russia's stock market nosedived at the open and the ruble fell 2 percent to record lows against the dollar and the euro before recovering to trade up 1.4 percent after the central bank dramatically lifted its key lending rate by 1.5 percentage points to 7 percent at an unscheduled meeting.

The country's sovereign dollar bonds were also hit, down more than 2 points, while the cost of buying 5-year swaps to insure against a Russian debt default jumped 33 basis points.

UPDATE: 3/3/14 8:00 AM ET

Russia is building up armored vehicles

Reuters — Russia has started a build-up of armored vehicles on the Russian side of a narrow stretch of water between Russia and the Ukrainian region of Crimea, Ukrainian border guards said on Monday.

A border guard spokesman also said Russian ships had been moving in and around the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked mobile telephone services in some parts of Crimea.

He said the build-up of Russian armor was near a ferry port on the Russian side of what is known as the Kerch Strait, which separates the eastern edge of the Crimea peninsula and the western edge of the Taman Peninsula.

The strait is 4.5 km (2.8 miles) wide at its narrowest point and up to 18 meters (59 feet) deep.

"There are armored vehicles on the other side of the strait. We can't predict whether or not they will put any vehicles on the ferry," the spokesman said by telephone.

The border guard spokesman did not say how many armored vehicles had gathered in Russian territory, opposite the city of Kerch on the Ukrainian side of the strait.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian Defense Ministry.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 5:20 PM ET

John Kerry to visit Kyiv Monday night

US Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement via Twitter:

Meanwhile, after a vigorous day of diplomacy, Western governments have agreed to further isolate Russia. The Wall Street Journal, however, has reported that the West remains divided on details of the response. For example, "German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the answer lay in Ukraine and Russia coming together to discuss their differences diplomatically," the Journal reported.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 2:45 PM ET


Mayor of Lviv, stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism, reaches out to Crimea

From Moscow, GlobalPost's Dan Peleschuk files on a rare effort to calm tensions:

The mayor of Lviv, western Ukraine’s largest city and a bastion of the Ukrainian nationalism that has powered the country’s monthslong protest movement, turned to Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea and the country’s southeast in a bid to dispel fears that Kyiv’s post-revolutionary authorities are motivated by violent radicalism.

In a video address posted late Sunday, Andriy Sadovyy urges them not to listen to reports — such as those regularly spun on Russian state television – that "armed extremists" from Ukraine's western regions were going to invade and restore their own order there.

He added that since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, politicians have sought to score dividends on exaggerating the country’s ethnic and cultural divides. “We respect the desire of all people living in Ukraine – Ukrainians, Russians, Crimean Tatars, Jews, citizens of all nationalities – to peacefully develop their culture, speak their own languages, and remember their own history,” he said.

“But foreign armies will never bring us peaceful development.”

Residents in Crimea, as well as many in Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions, have feared what they say are the “fascists” that came to power after Yanukovych’s ouster last week.

They point to presence of various ultranationalist groups that helped overthrow the Yanukovych regime, as well as the heavy representation in the protests of citizens from Ukrainian-speaking western regions, where anti-Russian sentiments have traditionally run high.

Here's a link to the mayor's remarks.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 2:10 PM ET

Where does the West stand?

For a crisis of the size currently developing in Ukraine, President Obama has been conspicuously quiet since making a brief statement on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, on NBC's Meet the Press, Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday denounced Russia's "act of aggression" and warned of a trade freeze. “He's going to lose on the international stage, Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he's going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza,” Kerry said.

“He is not going to have a Sochi G-8,” Mr. Kerry added, referring to the meeting of the industrialized nations that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is to host in June. “He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues.”

Perhaps the most forceful comment came from Polish President Donald Tusk, who called a press conference on Sunday and said: “Europe must send a clear signal it will not tolerate any acts of aggression of intervention.”

Here's Secretary Kerry:


UPDATE: 3/2/14 1:55 PM ET

Commander of Ukraine’s navy declares allegiance to Crimean forces

Local media in Ukraine reported Sunday that Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, commander of the country’s naval forces, has defected to Crimea’s pro-Russian government. Berezovsky had just been appointed to the position on Saturday.

He was shown on Russian state television Sunday taking an oath of allegiance — alongside Sergei Aksyonov, the region’s defiant prime minister — to the autonomous Republic of Crimea and its people.

Shortly after, Ukrainian prosecutors launched treason charges against him, Reuters reported, noting that he refused to show resistance after Russian forces blockaded Ukraine’s naval headquarters.

GlobalPost's Moscow-based senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk adds: The move will likely further complicate the crisis for Kyiv’s post-revolutionary authorities, who have watched their nationwide authority slip further away after Yanukovych’s ouster last week.

Watch the navy chief's defection on YouTube:

UPDATE: 3/2/14 1:10 PM ET


Russian soldiers surround Ukrainian base (VIDEO)

Russian soldiers surrounded a Ukrainian military base near Perevalnoye, in Crimea on Sunday. GlobalPost's Ben C. Solomon, who shot the video below, says "It's a weirdly calm standoff, with Russian soldiers on one side of the gate, and Ukrainian forces on the other."

UPDATE: 3/2/14 12:50 PM ET

Confusion over status of Ukrainian warships in Crimean peninsula

As hard as it may be to lose sight of warship let alone ten of them, confusion reigned Sunday over the status of Ukrainian warships stationed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

According to Reuters, the ten military vessels remain at the port. The news agency cited Ukrainian authorities, who had earlier indicated that Coast Guard ships had been relocated.

Meanwhile, the nominally-independent Kremlin-funded news service RT reports that the 10 Ukrainian naval vessels have “voluntarily left.”

“Naturally, no one has compelled them to do so,” the government source [said]. The administration of the Crimean autonomy has nothing to do with the moves of the Ukrainian ships, an administrative source also told RIA Novosti.

Meanwhile, RT added that “an unnamed official source earlier told RIA Novosti that ‘the majority of the Ukrainian armed forces deployed in Crimea’ has sworn allegiance to the Crimean authorities.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 9:30 AM ET

As Russian troops dig trenches, Ukraine's new prime minister warns of "disaster."

Sunday has been peaceful but very tense in the Crimean peninsula.

Despite the lack of violence so far, the BBC reports that Russian troops are digging "what appear to be trenches" along the border.

Meanwhile in Kyiv, Ukraine’s new prime minister ramped up the rhetoric by urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops. “We are on the brink of disaster,” Prime Minister Aresnly Yatsenyuk said. His government also mobilized troops today.

And like any strong man, Putin appears to have his own exotic, dedicated defense forces. In Putin's case, they're called Night Wolves, and they're a "fiercely patriotic motorcycle gang," the Telegraph reports. Call them "Putin's Hell's Angels."

UPDATE: 3/2/14 8:15 AM ET

Ukraine calls up reserves

In response to Russia's move to seize control of the Crimean peninsula, on Sunday Ukraine mobilized its reserve troops and threatened war if Russia advanced further into the country.

UPDATE: 3/2/14 7:49 AM ET

Obama consults with Hollande, Harper on Ukraine

As tensions heated up over Russian intervention in Ukraine, US President Barack Obama consulted with the leaders of France and Canada to come up with an aid package for the country, AFP reported.

Experts stress that that any pre-conditions for Western economic aid must effectively help repair Ukraine's ailing economy, without alienating citizens who may be inclined to prefer less restrictive Kremlin aid.

UPDATE: 3/1/14

5:40 PM ET

Putin tells Obama Russia has the right to protect interests in Ukraine

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin told US President Barack Obama by telephone that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

In a statement posted online, the Kremlin said Obama had expressed concern about the possibility of Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

"In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia's armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kyiv," the statement said.

"The Russian President underlined that there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that if violence spread further in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers living there."

According to the White House, Obama told Putin that Russia had committed a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by sending forces into Crimea and warned of consequences.

"The United States condemns Russia's military intervention into Ukrainian territory," the White House said in a statement outlining what was discussed in a 90-minute phone call between Obama and Putin.

The White House said the United States will suspend participation in preparatory meetings for G8 summit in Sochi, Russia.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 5:34 PM ET

NATO chief's tweets

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called a meeting for tomorrow on the "grave" situation in Ukraine. Here are a few of his tweets from today:




UPDATE: 3/1/14 4:26 PM ET

Ukraine can defend itself, but wants global backup

Ukraine has asked the United States and other key members of the United Nations Security Council to help safeguard its territorial integrity after Russia announced plans to send armed forces into the country's autonomous Crimea region, Reuters reported.

Reality must have sunk in. The plea came a day after Ukraine's UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev declared, "We are strong enough to defend ourselves."

Today, he told reporters after a closed-door UN meeting: "We can stop the expansion of this aggression."

Ukraine has also asked NATO to look at all possible ways to help it protect itself, Foreign Minister Sergei Deshchiritsya said on Saturday.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 3:54 PM ET

Hey Russia, you there? Pick up the phone, it's Ukraine


UPDATE: 3/1/14 3:32 PM ET

Raw video: Pro-Russian 'self-defense' groups in Simferopol

Pro-Russian "self defense" groups in Simferopol, Crimea, patrol alongside uniformed soldiers outside Crimean parliament. They also surrounded the Crimean Interior Ministry after reports that armed men from Kyiv tried to take it over.
(Ben C. Solomon/GlobalPost)

UPDATE: 3/1/14 3:04 PM ET

Will Russia invade Ukraine — or has it already?

In a new analysis piece, GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk examines the Russian government's moves to deploy troops to Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 2:03 PM ET

Ukrainian navy ships reportedly leaving Sevastopol

The flagship of Ukraine's navy, the frigate "Getman Sahaidachny," has left its main base in Sevastopol, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti. Ukrainian media said the report was false. Ria Novosti cited an unnamed "senior official in the headquarters of the Ukrainian Naval Forces" saying other Ukrainian ships currently stationed in the city are also scheduled to leave the base. The day before saw the departure of all six of the Sevastopol base's border patrol vessels, the Russian report said, adding that Odessa is the ships' possible destination.

— Alex Padalka

UPDATE: 3/1/14 12:40 PM ET

Video: This Crimea woman is so psyched she wants to kiss the Russians

"I even wanted to kiss them" one resident exclaimed. (Ben C. Solomon/GlobalPost)

UPDATE: 3/1/14 11:40 AM ET

Calling UN Security Council

Reuters — The United Nations Security Council will hold an urgent meeting on the crisis in Ukraine on Saturday after Russia announced plans to send armed forces into the autonomous Crimea region of the former Soviet republic, council delegations said.

A diplomat from Luxembourg, president of the 15-nation council this month, said the meeting would take place at 2:00 p.m. EST and was being convened at the request of Britain.

The council met on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine's Crimea region but took no formal action, as expected. The meeting highlighted the deep divisions between the United States and other Western nations and Russia, which has a major Black Sea naval base in the Crimea.

At Friday's session, Ukraine accused Russia of illegal military incursions onto Ukrainian territory, while US and European delegations warned Moscow to withdraw any new military forces deployed in neighboring Ukraine. Russia, however, said any military movements by Russian forces there were in compliance with its agreement with Kyiv on maintaining its naval base there.

Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council and, therefore, able to block any actions proposed by its members.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 11:24 AM ET

Russia's parliament approves use of troops in Ukraine

Russia's upper house of parliament has approved President Vladimir Putin's request to use Russian troops in Ukraine.

Vitaly Klitschko, a senior Ukrainian politician and likely presidential candidate, called on Saturday for a "general mobilization" following Russian parliament's decision to approve deploying troops in Ukraine's Crimea region.

"Klitschko calls for a declaration on a general mobilization," the retired boxing champion's political party UDAR (Punch) said, making clear he favored a military mobilization.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 10:30 AM ET

Putin requests parliament approval to use Russian troops in Ukraine

Agence France-Presse — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday submitted a request to the upper house of parliament asking approval for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

"In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens ... I submit to the Federation Council a request to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory until the normalization of the political situation in that country," the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying in the document.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 10:12 AM ET

Raw video: Soldiers surround Crimean parliament

Uniformed armed men, believed to be Russian soldiers, reinforced a perimeter around the Crimean parliament on Saturday, days after pro-Russian militias took up posts there. (Ben C. Solomon/GlobalPost)

UPDATE: 3/1/14 9:24 AM ET

'Russia, Russia! Simferopol!'


Pro-Russian sympathizers chanting "Russia, Russia! Simferopol, Simferopol! Sevastopol, Sevastopol! Berkut, Berkut!" Berkut is the elite paramilitary unit recently disbanded by the new Ukrainian government and blamed for many of the deaths during violent clahes recently in Kyiv. They're holding up a giant Russian flag as they march today in the city center in Simferopol, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images.)

UPDATE: 3/1/14 8:53 AM ET

Crimea referendum moved up to March 30

Agence France-Presse — A referendum to determine whether residents in Ukraine's flashpoint peninsula of Crimea want greater autonomy has been pushed forward to March 30, the spokeswoman of the region's newly chosen prime minister, Sergiy Aksyonov, said Saturday.

The vote had originally been planned for May 25, on the same day as presidential elections set by parliament following the ouster of the pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

UPDATE: 3/1/14 8:25 AM ET

Ukraine cites Russian troop movements as Crimea sliding from its grasp

Reuters — Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of sending thousands of extra troops to Crimea and placed its military in the area on high alert as the Black Sea peninsula appeared to slip beyond Kiev's control.

Russia's RIA news agency said pro-Russian authorities in the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority, and the Russian Black Sea fleet based there had agreed to guard important buildings. Regional premier Sergei Aksyonov said that Fleet personnel had already been deployed.

The peninsula's main civil airport at the fleet town of Simferopol announced it had closed its airspace. Russia accused Kiev-backed gunmen of attacking the Interior Ministry building and wounding personnel in "treacherous provocation".

Language emanating from Moscow was reminiscent of Cold War times when the Soviet Union felt its allied states of eastern Europe under threat from Western intrigues — something the Kremlin has cited in recent weeks as a factor in the crisis.

Read more.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 5:35 PM ET

Signing off

Here's some homework for tonight, as we close our live blog:

Russia has gone into overdrive to hold onto resource-rich Crimea, the southern region of Ukraine. But it's just one example of how Moscow is attempting to exert control over the region.

Mostly Russia does this by making big energy deals. Moscow now supplies Europe with a quarter of its natural gas needs. When energy isn't an option, force can be.

These are the ways Russia exerts control over its neighbors

And more on Crimea, which is no stranger to conflict

Please follow our Twitter list for updates.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 5:30 PM ET

Obama's remarks on Ukraine

Reuters — President Barack Obama on Friday expressed concern about reported Russian military movement inside crisis-torn Ukraine and warned of consequences.

"We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside ofUkraine," he told reporters at the White House.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," he said in a brief appearance. "The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."

UPDATE: 2/28/14 5:25 PM ET

This is what a Russian 'show of force' looks like

GlobalPost contributor Ben C. Solomon was in Crimea's regional capital of Simferopol:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 5:10 PM ET

Obama's statement on Ukraine

President Obama made a brief statement on Ukraine, without taking any questions:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 4:40 PM ET

Obama to make statement

While there is still mostly silence from Putin, this:

The statement will be live streamed below:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 4:40 PM ET

US ambassador to the UN

US is 'gravely disturbed

UPDATE: 2/28/14 4:25 PM ET

UNSC meeting

Ukraine's ambassador to the UN is set to make a statement after an emergency Security Council session:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 4:20 PM ET

We can defend ourselves, says Ukraine's UN ambassador

Reuters — Ukraine's UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said on Friday "we are strong enough to defend ourselves" while accusing Russia of illegally sending unauthorized military assets across the border of the former Soviet republic.

Sergeyev was speaking to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council in a closed-door session on the escalating crisis in Ukraine and the seizure of two airports in the autonomous region of Crimea.

Meanwhile, the now former US ambassador to Russia:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 3:50 PM ET

EU commissioner says Russia must be involved in Ukraine solution

Reuters — Any peaceful resolution of Ukraine's political turmoil must have Russia in the mix out of concern the two nations could descend into open warfare, European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani said on Friday.

"Of course it is important to back democracy, but at the same time it is important to work with Russia. Why? Because without strong cooperation with Russia it is impossible to have a good solution. The danger is GeorgiaII," Tajani told Reuters on the sidelines of an Italian business conference.

Tajani was alluding to the 2008 war involving Russia and another former Soviet republic, Georgia, over two Moscow-backed breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In Ukraine, armed men took control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what the new Ukrainian leadership described as an invasion by Moscow's forces, and ousted President Viktor Yanukovich said Russia should use all means at its disposal to stop the chaos in Ukraine.

One of eight vice presidents on the European Commission, Tajani called Ukraine a "complicated cocktail" of 46 million people with different ethnic and cultural traditions.

"I don't know if (a) split is a good solution. But today, first of all, it is important to block Georgia II. Today this is the danger. Then it is possible to study a good solution," he said.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 3:30 PM ET

The Abkhazia plan

Reuters — Ukraine's acting president accused Russia of open aggression on Friday and said Moscow was following a similar scenario to the one before it went to war with Georgia in 2008.

Oleksander Turchynov drew a comparison to Russia's intervention in Georgia over the breakaway Abkhazia region which has a large ethnic Russian population.

"Russia has sent forces into Crimea ... they are working on scenarios which are fully analogous with Abkhazia, when having initiated a military conflict, they started to annex the territory," he said in televised comments.

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk was in Abkhazia shortly before the Sochi Winter Olympics, taking a closer look at how the breakaway region has fared in isolation:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 3:15 PM ET

Ukraine's army is not responding to Russia's goading say leaders

From BBC News, on the televised remarks from Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov:

In a televised address, Mr Turchynov said Moscow was trying to play out an "Abkhazian" plan, waiting for the Ukrainian side to react to provocations so that Moscow could annex Crimea.

Ukraine's acting leader also said that the "Ukrainian army is not responding" to the provocations in Crimea.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko spoke to the BBC, telling them:

"It's done specifically to spread the conflict," he said. "I don't understand the position of some people who are playing in favor of heating up this stand-off. And we have a lot of information today that Russian Federation troops participated in it, and I'm certain that we need to approach the Russian Federation, asking [them] not to interfere."

UPDATE: 2/28/14 3:00 PM ET

Ukraine's president calls on Russia to stop provocations

From the BBC: Oleksander Turchynov said "Moscow deployed troops in Crimea and is 'trying to provoke' Kyiv into an 'armed conflict.'"

UPDATE: 2/28/14 2:55 PM ET

UN Security Council holds emergency session on Ukraine

Reuters — The UN Security Council will hold a closed-door emergency session on the escalating crisis in Ukraine on Friday at the request of the new Kyiv government, which warned that the situation in Crimea threatened Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Armed men took control of two airports in Ukraine's autonomous Crimea region earlier on Friday in what the country's leadership described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces. Russia denied involvement in the airport seizures.

"Due to the deterioration of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, Ukraine, which threatens territorial integrity of Ukraine ... I have the honor to request an urgent meeting of the Security Council in accordance with Articles 34 and 35 of the UN Charter," Ukraine's UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev wrote to Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite.

Murmokaite is president of the Security Council for the month of February. Her mission confirmed on Twitter that the meeting would take place at 3:00 p.m. EST on Friday.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 2:40 PM ET

Ukraine protests airspace violation

Reuters — Ukraine protested on Friday to Russia that it had violated its airspace and broken the terms of an agreement under which Moscow leases a base for its Black Sea fleet in Crimea.

The Foreign Ministry gave no details but the Ukrainian border guard service said more than 10 Russian military helicopters had flown from Russia into Ukrainian airspace over the Crimea region.

Russian servicemen also blocked off a unit of Ukrainian border guards near the port city of Sevastopol, where part of Russia's Black Sea fleet is based, a Reuters correspondent said.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 02:05 PM ET

Fiber optic cable cut between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine

GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka reported:

After unidentified men took control of several Crimean facilities belonging to telecom provider Ukrtelcom, the company lost the ability to provide communication between the peninsula and the rest of Ukraine, and possibly within the peninsula, according to a notice on the company's website. The interruption occurred after one of its fiber optic cables was damaged.

The company did not say how many customers are affected, but some residents of Sevastopol have reported losing internet access this evening. Several Crimean websites, including and the official site of Sevastopol's newly elected mayor,, have not had updates as of 6 p.m. local time.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 01:55 PM ET

Flights cancelled, airports closed

UPDATE: 2/28/14 1:40 PM ET

Russian troops in Crimea

The Russian foreign ministry said armored vehicles of the Russian Black Sea Fleet moved into Crimea to protect fleet positions, The Telegraph reported.

According to a statement published on the ministry's website, “The Ukrainian side was also passed a note regarding the movement of armored vehicles of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, which is happening in full accordance with the foundation Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the Black Sea Fleet.”

Read the full story on The Telegraph.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 1:27 PM ET

Zhirinovsky comes to Sevastopol, jokes about labor camps for Maidan supporters

GlobalPost contributor Yura Padalka reports from Sevastopol:

Sevastopol's newly elected mayor Aleksei Chaliy met today with Vladimir Zhirinovksy, leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

The conversation was to be "long, technical, and private," the mayor's people said. Despite limited prior announcements, several thousand people showed up in front of the city administration building where the meeting was to take place, some waving Russian flags.

On his way inside, Zhirinovsky, a known showman, stopped to say a few words, including: "In Kyiv, they have Maidan, but in Russia, we have Magadan! Let them think about that!" Magadan is a small but strategic port in the far Northeast of Russia on the Sea of Okhotsk.

During the Stalin era, Magadan was a major transit point for prisoners sent to labor camps. Two hours prior to the meeting an unidentified man called away a group of cossacks, who went to the roof of the City Hall building across the street, removed the Ukrainian flag, and threw it to the street below.

Drivers avoided riding over the flag until a man picked it up and tried to throw it in a garbage bin, at which point a small scuffle erupted. Several people suggested this was a provocation.

Following the incident, Chaliy came out to urge people to refrain from provocations and unsanctioned actions.

Vladimir Zhirinovksy, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, speaks in a rally on Feb. 28, 2014.

Vladimir Zhirinovksy speaks in Sevastopol on Feb. 28, 2014.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 12:50 PM ET

Intervention would be 'grave mistake' says White House

Reuters — The White House says Russian intervention in Ukraine would be a grave mistake, and Ukraine's territorial integrity must be respected.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 12:45 PM ET

Russian Black Sea fleet denies occupying airports

More from The Washington Post on the identity of those gunmen at Crimea's airports:

A spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet denied the reports that its troops are involved in blocking the Belbek airfield, according to the Interfax news agency.

“No subdivision of the Black Sea Fleet has been advanced into the Belbek area, let alone involved in blocking it,” the spokesman said. “Given the unstable situation around the Black Sea Fleet bases in the Crimea, and the places where our service members live with their families, security has been stepped by the Black Sea Fleet’s anti-terror units.”

A Crimea news Web site, Argumenty Nedeli Krym, reported that the armed men carried assault rifles. “As journalists attempted to approach them, one of the servicemen warned that they would shoot to kill,” the Web site said.

At the Belbek airport, armed men and a military transport truck blocked the entrance. Whoever the men were, they did not appear to be civilian militiamen, but trained soldiers.

Read the full report at The Post.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 12:15 PM ET

Russian helicopters sighted

Amateur video appeared to capture Russian helicopters reportedly flying towards Sevastopol's military airport on Friday morning.

According to The Aviationist, some regional media outlets reported that the Ukrainian Border Guards had confirmed the news of the gunships.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 12:10 PM ET

No further violence, says Putin

Meanwhile, Putin has spoken:

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin said there must be no further escalation of violence in Ukraine in phone calls with the leaders of Britain and Germany and the president of the European Council, the Kremlin said on Friday.

Ukraine's interim government said on Friday that Russian forces had seized control of two airports in the Crimean peninsula, the only part of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority and the last major bastion of resistance to the toppling of Moscow-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 12:00 PM ET

Are the Russians coming? Or...

And this from Ben C. Solomon:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 11:45 AM ET

The view from Russia

From Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk:

While the drama in Crimea continued to unfold Friday, Russian state television — long known for toeing a Kremlin-friendly line — aggressively covered Yanukovych’s press conference, providing plenty of airtime to top lawmakers who appeared to dutifully side with the embattled president and cast the new authorities as violent, fascist usurpers.

But there’s also a behind-the-scenes makings of a power play Moscow may soon hope to use.

Even before Yanukovych spoke, news agencies here reported that Russia’s parliament received a draft law that would ease restrictions on territories seeking to become a legal part of Russia, as well as one that would simplify the process for Ukrainians of gaining Russian citizenship.

The first bill appears to amend a previous law that requires an international treaty for a foreign region to join Russia. Meanwhile, as part of the second bill, Ukrainians would only need to speak Russian to obtain citizenship instead of the five-year residency requirement currently in place.

For those in the know, that's a laughable prerequisite, since a vast majority of Ukrainians above university age are at least conversant in Russian.

Both moves are undoubtedly aimed at Crimea, and some critics allege it’s part of a Kremlin plan to create a pretext for possible large-scale intervention on the pro-Russian peninsula to keep Kyiv destabilized and win back some influence over its Soviet-era subject.

Observers point to the Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia as an example, when the Kremlin justified the military offensive as an attempt to protect the breakaway South Ossetia region’s Russian-speaking locals, many of which were Russian citizens.

There's a reason Moscow calls most former Soviet subjects its "near abroad."

UPDATE: 2/28/14 11:35 AM ET

Black Sea fleet at Ukrainian border posts

Reuters — At least 20 men wearing the uniform of Russia's Black Sea fleet and carrying automatic rifles surrounded a Ukrainian border guard post on Friday, in a tense standoff near the port city of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea region.

A Reuters reporter in the Balaklava district saw Ukrainian border police in helmets and riot gear shut inside the border post, with a metal gate pulled shut and metal riot shields placed behind the windows as protection.

A servicemen who identified himself as an officer of the Black Sea Fleet told Reuters: "We are here ... so as not to have a repeat of the Maidan."

He was referring to Kyiv's Independence Square, the cradle of a popular uprising that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

The servicemen's presence appeared to confirm the veracity of a statement by the Ukrainian border guard service that Russian servicemen were blocking off a unit of Ukrainian border guards in Balaklava.

And these tweets from The Wall Street Journal's correspondent:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 11:00 AM ET

Assets frozen

Reuters — Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein on Friday moved to freeze assets and bank accounts of up to 20 Ukrainians including ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and his son, after Ukraine's new rulers said billions had gone missing.

The measures were announced as the crisis in Ukraine worsened, with armed men taking control of two airports in Crimea in what Ukraine's new government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, although Moscow denied involvement.

The three countries did not say how much money was affected by the asset freezes. The European Union agreed to similar measures last week but they have yet to come into force.

Ukraine's new prime minister Arseny Yatsenuk on Thursday accused Yanukovych of stripping state coffers bare and said $37 billion of credits had disappeared. In the past three years $70 billion had disappeared into offshore accounts, he added.

At a news conference in Russia, Yanukovych denied having any foreign bank accounts. "I have never held any foreign bank accounts," he said. "All I had was declared. It's empty chatter."

UPDATE: 2/28/14 10:10 AM ET

Yanukovych's speech, in short

The foreign ministers of Poland, Germany and France released this statement on Ukraine. The trio were instrumental in negotiating a deal between Yanukovych's government and opposition leaders before the situation heated up and the president fled Kyiv.

We take note of the formation of a transitional government in Ukraine supported by a broad majority of votes in the Ukrainian parliament. This transitional government will have to face immense challenges in order to improve the standards of living of the citizens of Ukraine which can be only achieved through the implementation of the transition and modernization reforms, including fight with corruption, and respect for democratic values. We are ready to support Ukraine in these efforts.

We remain convinced that political stability and reforms in Ukraine require a broad consensus supported by all relevant stakeholders without exception. In particular, a lasting accommodation of the existing diversity in Ukrainian society necessitates reaching out to Eastern and Southern regions and engaging with all legitimate interests, including minority rights especially regarding language issues.

On Crimea, they said:

We are deeply concerned with the tensions in Crimea. Everything must be done to decrease the tension in the eastern region and promote peaceful discussions among relevant parties. We restate our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 9:45 AM ET

Yanukovych's speech, in short

1) Yanukovych's speech was very vague. He said Russia shouldn't intervene in Ukraine militarily. He said Crimea should remain part of Ukraine.

2) Yanukovych also called on Putin to do something. He said he was surprised that Putin hadn't said more about the situation.

3) Yanukovych said he was still Ukraine's president. He called those who had taken over Ukraine's parliament fascists and nationalists.

4) Yanukovych would only return to Ukraine if he and his family were guaranteed their safety, he said.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 08:52 AM ET

More details from Yanukovych's press conference

UPDATE: 2/28/14 08:43 AM ET

Live stream of Yanukoych's press conference on NBC

UPDATE: 2/28/14 8:40 AM ET

More on the armed gunmen

GlobalPost contributor Ben C. Solomon landed in Simferopol airport and sent these observations about the armed gunmen who reportedly "seized" the airport:

The armed men aren't saying anything, so it's impossible to confirm who they're affiliated with.

They refused to talk to anyone.

They definitely looked like organized military — they had significant arms, clean and proper uniforms, were definitely trained and seemed organized.

Some were carrying rocket launchers.

According to CNN, one unnamed man said, "We are checking to make sure that no radicals come to Crimea from Kiev, from the Ukraine"

UPDATE: 2/28/14 8:37 AM ET

Yanukovych holds press conference in Russia

Here's what he's saying:

UPDATE: 2/28/14 8:34 AM ET

Crimea still recognizes Yanukovych

The newly elected prime minister of the autonomous republic of Crimea Sergey Aksenov told Interfax that his government still considers Yanukovych the legitimate Ukrainian president and he and his colleagues "will follow his directives."

This morning, Crimean Speaker of the Crimean Supreme Council Vladimir Konstantynov reiterated that Yanukovych is the incumbent president.

Yanukovych, thought to be in Russia, said he would hold a press conference at 5 p.m. local time in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 7:30 AM ET

Reports of airports in Crimea being seized

Uniformed men carrying automatic weapons reportedly seized the airports in the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol overnight, according to the Financial Times.

A video from the Belbek airport in Sevastopol showed no insignia on the uniforms of the armed men.

Meanwhile, Arsen Avakov, acting head of the interior ministry, said on his Facebook page that Sevastopol's airport was surrounded by forces from Russia's Black Sea naval fleet while Ukrainian army and border patrol occupied the interior.

A group of 119 armed men in unmarked uniforms entered the Simferopol airport, according to Avakov "not hiding their affiliation with the Russian military." Avakov called the action an "armed invasion and occupation."

Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov had warned a day earlier that any movement of the Russian military from its naval base in Sevastopol "will be considered as military aggression."

A Simferopol airport spokesman refuted reports of a takeover, according to the RT, and said it was working without delays.

And this was the account of an Agence France-Presse correspondent:

The airport of Crimea's capital Simferopol was operating normally early Friday, an AFP journalist at the scene said, despite reports it had been seized overnight by armed assailants.

Passengers were checking in normally for flights, the journalist said, but about a dozen unidentified armed men could be seen outside the airport perimeter.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 4:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 3:50 PM ET

"Ukraine! Ukraine!" vs. "Russia! Russia!"

Less than two feet separate each side as pro-Russian and pro-European protesters chant and throw insults at each other.

GlobalPost's Ben C. Solomon filmed the scene in the eastern city of Kharkiv this week, just 25 miles from the Russian border, where the situation is tense.

The main victim of the ire? Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. Or least, his statue.

Watch the video here.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 3:00 PM ET

Russia will respect Ukraine's boundaries, says foreign minister

Despite all the militaristic rumblings, Russia's foreign minister sought to ease concerns on Russia's designs:

Agence France-Presse — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed Thursday that Moscow "will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine" and voiced concerns about the situation in southern Crimea, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The top US diplomat said the pledge came in an early morning phone call with his Russian counterpart, who also insisted Moscow was not behind the storming of Crimean government buildings by dozens of armed pro-Kremlin gunmen.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 2:20 PM ET

Russia scrambles fighter jets

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for surprise military readiness exercises, some of which would take place very close to Ukraine.

A day later, this (from the Associated Press):

On Thursday, as part of the exercises, fighter jets were put on combat alert and were patrolling the border, Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement. It didn't specify the areas where patrol missions were being conducted. The military also announced measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean peninsula in southeastern Ukraine.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 2:10 PM ET

Revolution? That was the easy part

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk says, now comes the hard part:

KYIV, Ukraine — Post-revolutionary Ukraine may have finally appointed a new government on Thursday, but that was the easy part.

After President Viktor Yanukovych’s flight last weekend, the country is facing threats of separatism, a failing economy and increasing demands from protesters for transparency in a system that was built for the opposite.

It’s no accident that newly appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called this government a collection of “political suiciders,” and analysts say there’s no time to lose.

“At this point, it’s very difficult to sort out just one or two priorities,” says Serhiy Solodkyy, a Kyiv-based political expert. “The priority is on everything.”

Parliament on Thursday voted 331-1 in favor of an interim cabinet, which was presented to protesters on Independence Square, or the Maidan, for approval Wednesday night, reflecting that the revolution was driven from the streets.

But recent events in Crimea — an autonomous, pro-Russian peninsula on the Black Sea — and the threat of military intervention by Moscow are overshadowing any sense of progress and highlight the uphill battle the new authorities face.

And more on Crimea:

Ethnic Russians make up the majority in Crimea, which Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.

Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kyiv and local Muslim Tatars, whom Josef Stalin deported during World War II, have joined to oppose the pro-Russia protesters.

Find his full report from Kyiv here.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 2:00 PM ET

Is Yanukovych still president?

Depends on who you ask:

This was the response from White House press secretary Jay Carney:

And one from an ally in Ukraine:

As to whether Russia has agreed to protect him or not:

Earlier Thursday, the deposed Ukrainian president released a statement from his current location, thought to be Russia.

"I still consider myself to be the legitimate leader of the Ukrainian state, elected on the basis of Ukrainian citizen’s free will," Yanukovych's statement said.

"I cannot remain indifferent to tragic events in my home country. There is rampant extremism on the streets of our country. My supporters and I receive threats of inflicting bodily harm."

He plans to hold a press conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don at 5 p.m. local time on Friday.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 1:45 PM ET

Simmering in Simferopol

This was the scene in Simferopol, Crimea's capital, on Thursday (according to The New York Times):

"Local police officers in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, sealed off access to the government buildings, including the regional Parliament, which were seized in mysterious overnight raids by people who appeared to be militant ethnic Russians."

Ukraine's acting interior minister said, "Provocateurs are on the march."

It seems quite a literal statement, at least the marching bit:

UPDATE: 2/27/14 1:30 PM ET

Chechen leader offers protection to pro-Russian factions in Ukraine

GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka sent us this report:

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov used his Instagram account Wednesday evening to offer protection to "Chechens and other Russians, wherever they are" against the "bandits and terrorists" that he said had taken over in Kyiv "in a coup planned by the West."

Kadyrov said the Chechen diaspora have encountered threats to their businesses and personal security during the crisis. "We never made claims on what belongs to others, but we will protect what is ours," he wrote.

Kadyrov also expressed indignation at the treatment of Ukraine's Berkut riot police — disbanded and made to stand on their knees — and added that "the Ukrainians and we are fraternal peoples." He added that "many peoples of the USSR have been subjected to deportation" and called on Crimean Tatars to pursue their aims legally, according to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

Kadyrov and his family were leaders of a pro-Russian militia during the Second Chechen War in the late 1990s and gained political power after it. Kadyrov became president of the Chechen Republic in 2007.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 1:00 PM ET

A Russian warship in Havana

Amid the close scrutiny of Russia's military movements near Ukraine, an odd occurrence.

According to Agence France-Presse:

A Russian Vishnya class warship docked in Havana on Wednesday without explanation from Communist Cuba or its state media. The Viktor Leonov CCB-175 boat measures 300 feet long, 50 feet wide and holds a crew of around 200.

Built in the 1980s for the Soviet Navy and deployed within the Russian fleet, Vishnya class ships are used for gathering intelligence. The ship is reportedly armed with 30mm guns and anti-aircraft missiles.

Neither Cuban authorities nor state media have mentioned the ship's visit, unlike previous tours by Russian warships. Its visit comes as Venezuela, Havana's current isolated economic and political patron, is facing unprecedented violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 12:04 PM ET

Crimea parliament to hold referendum in May

Agence France-PresseLawmakers in Crimea's regional parliament, which is currently being controlled by pro-Russian gunmen, voted Thursday to hold a referendum on May 25 on the region's status in Ukraine, the parliament's press service said.

Legislators fixed the vote to determine whether to increase Crimea's autonomy from Kyiv and they also voted to dismiss the region's current government, which has backed the new interim authorities in the capital.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 11:49 AM ET

Switzerland says it's ready to freeze any Yanukovych funds

Agence France-PresseSwitzerland said Thursday it was prepared to freeze any funds Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych might have in Swiss banks.

The Swiss government has decided "in principle to freeze any possible funds Mr. Yanukovych may have in Switzerland," foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told AFP in an email.

The full decision, which would be published Friday, obliged Swiss banks to show increased vigilance when it comes to Ukrainian funds, he added.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 11:26 AM ET

Europe fears Russia intervention

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames reports on Europe's reaction to the latest developments:

There's mounting dread across Europe that Ukraine's crisis could slide into a military conflict after pro-Russian gunmen seized the parliament in Crimea and Moscow put 150,000 troops on alert on its side of the border.

"This morning’s action by an armed group is dangerous and irresponsible,” said NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“I urge Russia not to take any action that could escalate tension or create misunderstanding." Speaking in Brussels after a meeting of allied defense ministers that focused on Ukraine, Fogh Rasmussen urged all parties "to step back from confrontation, refrain from provocative actions and return to the path of dialogue."

Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, who played a key role in negotiations that halted violence in Kyiv last week, cautioned that the unrest in Crimea was a danger for the whole region.

"I warn those who have done this and those who have facilitated it, that regional conflicts begin this way," he told reporters in Warsaw.

"This is a very dangerous game." Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference that NATO had "no information" to indicate Russia was preparing military intervention in Ukraine.

However, Western officials are concerned the Crimea tensions could be used as an excuse for Russian action.

They point to Moscow's 2008 war with Georgia that led to Russia’s recognition of the Moscow-backed regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Intervention in Ukraine's would entail much greater risks for Russian President Vladimir Putin given the country's size and closeness to the West, but Putin has made clear that he sees the country as vital for Russia's interests and apparently has been little impressed with European assurances that a Western-orientated Ukraine need not pose Moscow a threat.

Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO and is not covered by its mutual defense treaty. Despite that, the country's ambassador at alliance headquarters Ihor Dolhov pointed out that the United States, Britain and Russia are committed to his country's independence and existing borders through a 1994 agreement under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

That agreement, known as the Budapest Memorandum, says the three powers will "seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine" if the country "should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used."

UPDATE: 2/27/14 11:10 AM ET

Yanukovych press conference 

Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych will be holding a press conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don tomorrow, Russia Today reported. 

UPDATE: 2/27/14 10:42 AM ET

US, NATO have no contingency plans for Ukraine, says NATO's military commander

ReutersNeither the United States nor NATO has drawn up contingency plans for how they would respond if Russia were to intervene militarily in Ukraine's Crimea region, NATO's top military commander said on Thursday.

US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, also commander of US forces in Europe, said in an interview with Reuters and The Wall Street Journal that NATO had not changed the deployment of any military assets due to tensions over Ukraine.

"No, no, we have taken no actions to this moment. We are doing what everyone else is doing which is monitoring. We are trying to get to a full understanding of exactly what has transpired," Breedlove said.

Full story here

UPDATE: 2/27/14 10:04 AM ET

Scene in Crimea

UPDATE: 2/27/14 09:56 AM ET

IMF sending team to Ukraine, says IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde

ReutersThe International Monetary Fund will send a fact-finding team to Ukraine in the coming days in response to its request for support after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday.

She said the IMF and its international partners were discussing how to help Ukraine. The IMF team being sent to Kyiv will have preliminary talks with authorities there, she added.

"This will enable the IMF to make its usual technical, independent assessment of the economic situation in Ukraine and, at the same time, begin to discuss with the authorities the policy reforms that could form the basis of a Fund-supported program," Lagarde said in a statement.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 09:47 AM ET

Pro-Russian protesters in Simferopol

UPDATE: 2/27/14 09:20 AM ET

US calls on Russia to be transparent, avoid risky Ukraine steps

ReutersRussia must be transparent about military exercises along Ukraine's border and not take any steps that could be misinterpreted or "lead to miscalculation during a delicate time," US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered 150,000 troops to be ready for war games near Ukraine on Wednesday. On Thursday, Russia put fighter jets on combat alert.

Hagel, following NATO talks on Ukraine, said the United States expected other nations to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and avoid provocative actions.

"That's why I'm closely watching Russia's military exercises along the Ukrainian border, which they just announced yesterday," Hagel told a NATO news conference.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 08:33 AM ET

Russia grants Yanukovych protection

UPDATE: 2/27/14 8:05 AM ET

Yatsenyuk appointed prime minister

UPDATE: 2/27/14 8:00 AM ET

Ukraine warns any Russian military movement will be regarded as aggression

Following the seizure of government buildings by armed gunmen in Crimea, Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov said Ukraine would regard any movement of Russia's military in Crimea outside its base in Sevastopol as an act of aggression.

Sevastopol is the base of Russia's Black Sea fleet, and was the site of pro-Russian demonstrations earlier in the week.

The government building seizures happened in the regional capital Simferopol.

Turchynov's warning was issued in national parliament, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered sudden combat readiness drills close to the Ukraine border.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 7:40 AM ET

Gunmen seize government buildings in Crimea

Dozens of pro-Russian gunmen reportedly seized government buildings in the country's Crimean peninsula on Thursday, just as lawmakers in Ukraine's capital were preparing to approve a pro-Western cabinet for the state.

The Russian flag now flies over parliament and government buildings in the regional capital of Simferopol. The city saw pro-Russian and pro-Western rallies get into scuffles just the day before.

Agence France-Presse noted:

"The dawn raid came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap combat readiness drills near the Ukrainian border, which raised fears of the Kremlin using its military muscle to sway the outcome of a three-month crisis that has pitted Moscow against against the West in a Cold War-style confrontation over the future of the strategic nation of 46 million."

The autonomous region's prime minister Anatoliy Mohilyov said he was rebuffed when he tried to conduct negotiations.

"The gunmen who had seized the buildings said that they were not authorised to lead negotiations," Mohilyov said in an official statement.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 4:50 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments, or follow our Twitter list of correspondents keeping track of the crisis.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 4:40 PM ET

What the West should do

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames weighs in on what the West should do with regards to Ukraine:

First, the European Union can team up with the International Monetary Fund, the United States and other donors to provide emergency aid and a bailout package — Ukraine says it needs up to $35 billion over the next two years — to drag the country from the brink of bankruptcy.

At the same time, the West should launch a diplomatic offensive to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from intervening in Russia’s southern neighbor by assuring him Moscow's interests won’t be threatened by Ukraine's new direction.

The Ukrainian authorities should be pressed on democratic standards, minority rights and the importance of avoiding a witch hunt against supporters of the ousted regime.

Read the full piece here.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 3:30 PM ET

Money from the United States?

UPDATE: 2/26/14 3:10 PM ET

The candidates

Interpreter Magazine has the complete list of candidates nominated for positions in Ukraine's government. Here are some key positions:

Prime Minister – Arseniy Yatsenyuk [Batkivshchyna]

Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration – Boris Tarasyuk [Batkivshchyna]

Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Policy – Olga Bohomolets

Anticorruption Bureau – Tatiana Chornovol

Minister for Justice – Pavel Petrenko [Batkivshchyna]

Minister for Economy – Pavel Sheremeta

Minister for Foreign Affairs – Andriy Deschina

Minister of Internal Affairs – Arsen Avakov [Batkivshchyna]

Find the full list here.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 2:10 PM ET

Rustlings in Russia

From the very beginning of the protests in Kyiv, Ukraine has been caught between Russia and the European Union. On Wednesday, reports suggested President Vladimir Putin had ordered a snap check of Russia's armed forces, including areas close to the country's border with Ukraine.

As Agence France reported:

"The commander-in-chief has set the task of checking the capability of the armed forces to deal with crisis situations posing a threat to the military security of the country," said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

The drill involves army, navy and airforce troops based in the western military district, a vast territory bordering Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, Finland and the Arctic.

The check came unannounced, but Putin ordered a similar check last year, stating that they should become routine.

Russia's defense minister said the check was "by and large unrelated to the events in Ukraine," according to Interfax.

However, he added that Russia was keeping a close eye on developments near the Black Sea Fleet, stationed in the Russophone region of Crimea.

As the Guardian noted:

"Crimea has a largely pro-Russian population and earlier this week Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov warned there was a "serious risk" of separatism in the region."

Here's a more in-depth look at Russia's stake in Ukraine and how far it's willing to go to protect its interests.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 1:40 PM ET

Opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk nominated as next prime minister

More on Yatsenyuk's nomination from AFP:

Ukraine's pro-EU protest leader Arseny Yatsenyuk was on Wednesday picked to head the government of the crisis-hit country until presidential elections are held in May.

His nomination was announced in front of tens of thousands of people on Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of three months of protest that culminated in the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, along with an entirely new cabinet.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 1:30 PM ET

Ukraine's new government

Oleksander Turchynov is a close confidante of former prime minister and recently released opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. He was chosen as the acting president:

More on Yatsenyuk in our Who's who list.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 1:20 PM ET

Where is Yanukovych?

The guessing game as to the whereabouts of Ukraine's now former president continued on Wednesday.

Here's what the US State Department had to say about the topic:

And from AFP:

Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych remains in the country, deputy general prosecutor Mykola Golomcha said Wednesday, without giving further details of the whereabouts of the leader who vanished over the weekend.

"We have information indicating Yanukovych is still in Ukraine," Golomcha told reporters in Kyiv.

A reminder that Ukraine's parliament referred Yanukovych to the International Criminal Court and there are now wanted posters for him:

UPDATE: 2/26/14 12:55 PM ET

The crisis' economic toll

The BBC reported that Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, has fallen to a new low thanks to the political turmoil gripping the country.

The exchange rate is now 10 hryvnia to the US dollar.

Now, Kyiv looks to the West and the International Monetary Fund for aid, since Moscow has voiced its reluctance to lend a hand.

However, support from the European Union may not be quick to come either.

As The New York Times reported, "the European Union and the West are not willing or capable of bailing out Ukraine’s economy, especially if Moscow retaliates with new punitive tariffs, higher prices for natural gas and a cutoff of significant ties to Ukrainian factories and businesses."

Promises of support from the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton were purposely vague.

The BBC noted:

"Even before the recent political upheavals, Ukraine's economic performance was dismal. The economy is still smaller than it was in 1992, in the early days of post-Soviet independence."

UPDATE: 2/26/14 12:40 PM ET

Ukrainians await the announcement of a new government

The scene in Kyiv, via Kyiv Post's Christopher Miller:

Earlier, from Dan Peleschuk:

UPDATE: 2/26/14 12:05 PM ET

Tension in Crimea

Ukraine's Crimean peninsula has been on edge since the Kyiv protests led to President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster. The Russophone region saw brawls break out between pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv protesters from opposing rallies.

Agence France-Presse reported:

"Scuffles erupted in Simferopol as thousands of pro-Moscow residents and Muslim Crimean Tatars backing the new leadership in Kiev held competing rallies outside the regional parliament, amid fears that Ukraine's pro-Moscow east could push for partition following the weekend ousting of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych."

According to the BBC, Crimean Tatars chanted "Glory to Ukraine!" in Simferopol, while the pro-Russian crowd called back "Russia!"

Crimea has a certain degree of autonomy within Ukraine, and parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Konstantinov said members of parliament would not discuss any secession plans.

An elderly man died at the rallies in Crimea, likely the result of a heart attack.

This was the scene:

UPDATE: 2/26/14 11:15 AM ET

A massive assault was planned

Agence France-Presse — Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych drew up a large-scale "anti-terrorist" operation involving 22,000 security forces to "cleanse" protesters from Kyiv, leaked documents show — a plan opponents say would have caused even greater bloodshed.

Parts of the operation — detailed in official memos handed to a lawmaker by security officials — appear to have been set in motion when deadly clashes erupted last week between protesters and police. But for unknown reasons, others failed to materialize, allowing protesters to resist and eventually fight back.

"These documents, detailing the criminal activities of those in charge of the security forces, were passed on to me by patriotic members of the SBU (intelligence and security services) and the interior ministry," legislator and former deputy interior minister Gennady Moskal wrote on his site, where the documents were published.

"It's about understanding the nature and magnitude of the crimes committed by the previous government and taking those responsible to court," said Moskal, a member of the party of freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

The Kyiv Post reported on this alleged plan two days ago:

UPDATE: 2/26/14 10:40 AM ET

Berkut dismissed

Reuters — Ukraine's riot police force, held responsible for the deaths of most of the 100 people killed in unrest and clashes in Kiev, has been disbanded, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Wednesday.

Snipers from the 'Berkut' force - whose name means golden eagle and signifies a predator capable of swooping quickly on to its prey - are blamed for the deaths of most of the protesters in a three-day spasm of violence last week.

"The Berkut no longer exists", Avakov wrote in a blog on Facebook. "I have signed an order ... for the liquidation of the Berkut special police units," he said.

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk who is in Kyiv wrote about the civilian volunteer "self-defense" forces now standing guard in much of Ukraine's capital.

Potential recruits check out the EuroMaidan self-defense force.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:15 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:10 PM ET


From Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk:

A team of Ukrainian journalists have dug through Yanukovych's abandoned palace and are collecting any documentation they can find on corruption and graft. Of course, it's called "YanukovychLeaks." 

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:00 PM ET

Klitschko throws his hat in the ring

One of the protests' opposition leaders, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko, has announced he will run for president.

Here's more from Reuters:

One of the stars to emerge during this unrest was Vitali Klitschko, a heavyweight world champion boxer who became one of the three major protest leaders.

The tall 42-year-old has managed to use his sporting credentials to bridge traditional divides in Ukraine between the more nationalist West and pro-Russia East and South, and as such enjoys wide popularity.

Klitschko announced Tuesday he would stand for president in polls set for May 25, shortly after the electoral commission officially kicked off the campaign for elections.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 4:20 PM ET

Who's in charge?

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports from Kyiv:

KYIV, Ukraine — Men respect them, women feed them, and all the young ladies want their photos taken with them.

They’re Kyiv’s masked and armored “self-defense” forces, and they’re the most popular authority around town.

After police and security forces largely withdrew from the capital last week, these volunteer civilians — helmeted heroes to protesters, their erstwhile saviors from sniper fire and police brutality — were left in charge of keeping the peace.

Wielding baseball bats and clad in bulletproof vests, they still man the battle-scarred barricades around Independence Square.

But now they’re also guarding parliament and other parts of the capital, sometimes in tandem with regular police.

Protesters’ deep distrust of law-enforcement agencies means these volunteers have a popular mandate. 

UPDATE: 2/25/14 11:20 AM ET

Yanukovych now has a reason to be on the run

ReutersUkraine's parliament voted on Tuesday to send fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych to be tried for 'serious crimes' by the International Criminal Court once he has been captured.

A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovych, who was ousted on Saturday and is on the run, to police violence against protesters which had caused the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states and injured 2,000.

The resolution said two of Yanukovych's close allies — former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka who are also being sought by the authorities — should also be sent for trial at the ICC, which is based in The Hague.

Over the three months of street unrest and anti-government protests, it said, authorities under Yanukovych had systematically abused their power.

Methods of torture, used by police against protesters, included holding activists naked in temperatures of 15 degrees below freezing, it said.

"Parliament asks the International Criminal Court to hold Viktor Yanukovych and other high-level people criminally responsible for "issuing and carrying out openly criminal orders," it said.

Here is one video that captured the police stripping activists in below freezing temperatures (NSFW):

UPDATE: 2/25/14 11:00 AM ET

Tymoshenko: Exit stage left

Former prime minister and recently freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is headed to Germany.

A statement on her website read: "Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has accepted the offer of treatment from German Chancellor Angela Merkel."

She will reportedly be treated at Berlin's Charite Hospital.

Since her release, there has been speculation about whether Tymoshenko would play a political role in Ukraine's future.

Right after leaving prison, a wheelchair-bound Tymoshenko headed to Kyiv's Independence Square to tell protesters, "You are heroes."

Even out of office, she isn't far from power at the moment. The acting president, Oleksander Turchynov, is in fact Tymoshenko's close confidante.

Her lawyer clarified on Monday that she had not yet made a statement about running for Ukraine's presidency, as some media reported.

She has, however, ruled out becoming the prime minister.

"I am grateful for the respect this shows, but I ask not to be considered for this post," she said on her website.

In other words, thanks, but no thanks.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 10:20 AM ET

Interim president warns of separatism

Oleksander Turchynov, the man chosen to be Ukraine's interim president, warned of the risk of separatism in the aftermath of the clashes and President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster.

While speaking to parliament, Turchynov called separatism in regions with large ethnic Russian populations a "serious threat."

This from The Telegraph's correspondent who's in the Crimean region:

This was the scene yesterday, in the town of Sevastopol:

UPDATE: 2/24/14 5:00 PM ET

What comes next?

Ben C. Solomon and Nadia Parfan take a look at what Ukrainians hope for the future, in this video from Kyiv.

And with that, we sign off on today's live blog. You can follow further developments on our Ukraine Twitter list.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 1:35 PM ET

A larger bloodbath planned?

Hennadii Moskal, a member of recently released Yulia Tymoshenko's party, alleged that Yanukovych and his top law enforcement official had a larger, more sinister plan for Kyiv's Independence Square.

According to the Kyiv Post, "the plan called for surrounding Kyiv’s Independence Square with rooftop snipers whose mission would have been to wipe out the anti-government EuroMaidan protesters. Moskal said he obtained documents outlining the plan and released part of them publicly on his Facebook page in order to ensure that law enforcement officers bring criminal charges against Yanukovych and others responsible for the plan."

Read more at the Kyiv Post.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 12:15 PM ET

Russian rhetoric

In addition to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev calling the Ukraine parliament's ouster of Yanukovych an "armed mutiny," Russia has amped up the language relating to Ukraine:

Russia's foreign ministry issued a statement accusing the interim leaders of Ukraine's government of passing measures "aimed at infringing the humanitarian rights of Russians and other ethnic minorities."

"A course has been set towards suppressing dissenters in various regions of Ukraine by dictatorial, and sometimes even terrorist, means," the statement read, according to the BBC.

This is from the Russian foreign ministry's official Twitter account:

UPDATE: 2/24/14 11:20 AM ET

The place to watch now: Sevastopol

Reports suggest large crowds opposed to the Maidan crowd have amassed in the town of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea region.

It's also where Yanukovych is believed to have taken temporary refuge before leaving in the morning, according to acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

[h/t Interpreter Mag live blog]

UPDATE: 2/24/14 10:50 AM ET

The EU deal that started it all

The anti-government protests were sparked in November by President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a deal with the European Union.

Now a spokesman for the European Commission says the deal cannot be signed until after Ukraine holds elections:

"The trade and investment agreement remains on the table," said the EC's spokesman Olivier Bailly, referring to the political and trade pact between Ukraine and the EU.

"We are ready to sign this agreement once Ukraine is ready."

Bailly said Brussels — the seat of the EU — preferred to sign the deal with a government elected into office "to make sure this is a full sovereign choice," although he pointed out that did not mean the current government was not legitimate.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 10:00 AM ET

Russia calls Ukraine developments "armed mutiny"

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukraine's acting government of coming to power through "armed mutiny."

As Reuters reported:

"We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens," Medvedev was quoted as telling Russian news agencies, explaining why Moscow had recalled its Kiev ambassador on Sunday.

"Strictly speaking there is no one to talk to there. There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning there," he said.

Medvedev described some of the opposition activists involved in the street protests that led to Yanukovych's demise as "men in black masks with Kalashnikovs who are carving up Kiev," the reports said.

"It will be hard for us to work with such a government," state-run RIA quoted him as saying.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 6:37 AM ET

Ukraine issues arrest warrant for Yanukovych over 'mass murder'

AFP — Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the "mass murder" of protesters and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse.

The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation's new Western-leaning team — approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader go into hiding — came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kyiv to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow.

Ukraine's new interim head of the federal police said he held Yanukovych and his team of feared security insiders directly responsible for the deaths.

"A criminal case has been launched over the mass murder of peaceful civilians. Yanukovych and a number of other officials have been put on a wanted list," acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

Read the rest on these dramatic developments from Agence France-Presse.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 4:50 PM ET

Russia isn't happy with Ukraine opposition

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced his displeasure with the Ukraine opposition on the phone Sunday to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

He said the opposition has failed to abide by a peace deal signed on Friday — though he didn't mention that Putin's envoy never signed the deal and a lot has happened since then, like Yanukovych's impeachment and disappearance. But hey.

Lavrov told Kerry: "The Ukrainian opposition is deviating from the agreement, having in effect seized power in Kyiv, refused to disarm and continued to place its bets on violence."

UPDATE: 2/23/14 4:16 PM ET

Turchinov makes first statement as interim president

UPDATE: 2/23/14 12:26 PM ET

Dueling world powers keeping close eye on Ukraine, and each other

US national security adviser Susan Rice said on Sunday it would be a "grave mistake" for Russia to send military forces into Ukraine.

Rice made the comment on NBC's "Meet the Press," in response to a question about the hypothetical scenario in which Russia would send forces into Ukraine to restore a government more friendly to Moscow.

"That would be a grave mistake. It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate," she said.

Watch the video from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/23/14 10:45 AM ET

Needing context? Here are the key dates in Ukraine since 1991

If you're looking for a quick history lesson on Ukraine, check out AFP's timeline of major events since the country's independence in 1991, all the way up until last week. Click here for GlobalPost's full coverage of the past week's unrest and major news.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 9:00 AM ET

Oleksander Turchinov, Tymoshenko confidante, becomes acting Ukrainian president

Reuters — The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the closest confidante of freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, was temporarily handed the role of president on Sunday following the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych abandoned the capital on Saturday, heading to his native east where he denounced what he called a "coup d'état."

Parliament on Sunday voted to give Oleksander Turchinov, elected speaker on Saturday, Yanukovych's duties as president.

A presidential election has been set for May 25.

Turchinov, 49, hails from the same city as Tymoshenko, Dnipropetrovsk in southeastern Ukraine, and is deputy leader of her Fatherland party.

Read the rest of this report.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 9:00 AM ET

VIDEO: Exploring Yanukovych's forbidden mansion

On Saturday afternoon, the gates flew open.

Thousands of Ukrainians stormed the recently deserted compound of President Viktor Yanukovych.

GlobalPost's Ben Solomon captured this video account of the surreal scene outside Kyiv through the eyes of one babushka: "My heart can't take everything that's happened here."


UPDATE: 2/23/14 8:23 AM ET

A day of mourning

Emotions run high in Independence Square, with ceremonies to honor the dead continuing on Sunday.

As local journalist Olga Rudenko reported for GlobalPost yesterday, the joy many felt after Yanukovych was impeached was marred by grief for those fallen in recent days.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 8:04 AM ET

CCTV footage of Yanukovych fleeing his lavish home with his belongings by helicopter, trucks

UPDATE: 2/23/14 7:49 AM ET

New government in the works

Parliament has given itself three days to form a new government after impeaching Yanukovych and calling early elections.

The speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, has taken charge.

Yanukovych's whereabouts are a mystery, though rumor has it he's hiding out in the east.

Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Independence Square, also known as Maidan, where the atmosphere is calm.

Here's a live look at the square from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 4:15 PM ET

Tymoshenko gets mixed reviews after Maidan speech

Most say they missed her oratorical prowess, but many still on the fence over whether they want her as a leader. It's not going to be an easy in for Tymoshenko.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 3:54 PM ET

Yanukovych tried to bribe his way out of the country

Reuters reports:

Ukraine's border authorities said on Saturday it had refused to allow President Viktor Yanukovich to leave the country, Interfax news agency said.

Armed men had tried to bribe border staff at Donetsk airport in the east of the country to allow the charter flight to take off but they had refused, the agency, quoting an aide of the head of the state border service, said.

Yanukovich subsequently got off the plane and left in a waiting car, it said.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 3:00 PM ET

An emotional Tymoshenko speaks on Maidan from her wheelchair

Thousands cheered in Independence Square as the former prime minister said a "dictatorship has fallen" and begged forgiveness for "all politicians, regardless of political party."

UPDATE: 2/22/14 1:45 PM ET

Tymoshenko lands in Kyiv

"My biggest luck is to come back in totally different Ukraine where dictatorship ended today," she said at Kyiv airport.

Here's the crowd waiting for her in Independence Square:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:35 PM ET

Tymoshenko to run for president

Here's the first video (sorry, no English) of the former prime minister since her release from jail:

She's still in a wheelchair; jail wasn't too kind.

But according to the Twittersphere, she's got big plans:

We're sure to hear more from her as soon as she gets to Independence Square.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:25 PM ET

Yanukovych blocked from flying to Russia

AFP reports:

Ukraine's border police blocked Viktor Yanukovych from flying to Russia and the embattled president is thought to be "hiding" in the country's east, the newly elected Parliament speaker said on Saturday.

"He tried to take a plane to Russia but he was blocked in doing so by border police. He is currently hiding somewhere in the Donetsk region," Oleksandr Turchyno was quoted as saying by Ukrainian news agency Interfax.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:00 PM ET

GlobalPost's Olga Rudenko finds mixed emotions in Kyiv

Anti-government protests have been ongoing for three months, and protesters are clearly overjoyed to have something, finally, to celebrate.

Their excitement, however, is marred by the memory of some 70 protesters who died when clashes with police turned violent this week.

The mood in Kyiv's Independence Square, the epicenter of protests, reflects those mixed emotions. Mourners have strewn flowers to honor the dead. Every now and then political talks on the stage stop to give way for prayers.

"It's not a complete victory yet, but this gives us the way to make changes," said Kuchapin, smiling.

Read her full report here.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 11:03 AM ET

Tymoshenko on her way to Maidan

Twitter is abuzz with the news that Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister who was jailed until today, is on her way to join the cause.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 10:41 AM ET

New presidential elections planned for May 25

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:47 AM ET

Pics from GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:40 AM ET


Live look at Independence Square in Kyiv from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:22 AM ET

Yanukovych speaks up after fleeing

Change appears to be taking hold swiftly after Yanukovych fled to eastern Ukraine. But he appeared on TV Saturday to say though he's moved eastward for a spell, he's not down for the count:

He said that the east of the country remains "safe" unlike Kyiv, and the west. He also vowed to protect the country from criminals and called events in Kyiv a coup d'etat.

Stay tuned for more.


Live stream of Ukraine's parliament from Espreso TV, a privately owned channel in Ukraine:


The view around the president's mansion outside central Kyiv, which by all accounts has been abandoned:

Live streaming video by Ustream

UPDATE: 2/22/14 8:44 AM ET

It may not all be 'glory' from here

The latest from GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv:

....Developments here are unfolding at lightning pace, with the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, steaming ahead with draft laws aimed at dismantling the Yanukovych regime piece by piece.

By mid-day Saturday, parliament had voted to formally free jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s top rival and the country’s most famous political prisoner.

Parliament also elected a new speaker and interior minister from the opposition Fatherland party, while the country’s interior ministry issued a statement claiming it was shifting its loyalty to the people.

“We bow our heads to the blessed memory of the dead,” the statement said, in reference to the at least 77 protesters killed in clashes with police and security forces last week.

The ministry also urged public cooperation in maintaining law and order in the country, tellingly ending its address with the greeting that has become ubiquitous among Ukraine’s protesters: “Glory to Ukraine!”

Police and security forces appear to have withdrawn from most of central Kyiv, allowing protesters to roam freely around parliament and the presidential administration.

But amid the apparent power vacuum in Kyiv and Yanukovych’s flight to eastern Ukraine, fears remained over the potential threat of separatism in a country still largely split along cultural and linguistic lines.

Particularly worrying was an announcement by Kharkiv Governor Mykhailo Dobkin — a staunch pro-Yanukovych official — of a special congress on Saturday for pro-regime delegates from Russian-speaking southern and eastern Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych and his ruling party remains strong....

Read his full report here, and follow him on Twitter @dpeleschuk.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 5:48 AM ET

Protesters claim control of Kyiv; President Yanukovych reportedly flees

Ukraine's interior ministry transferred its loyalty to "the people" on Saturday in a statement released online.

Parliament voted in a new speaker after Volodymyr Rybakas, an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, submitted his resignation. Yanukovych reportedly fled to eastern Ukraine.

"Masses of journalists and citizens have been flocking to the president's mansion outside central Kyiv, which by all accounts has been abandoned," GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk said from the Ukrainian capital.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Friday that a deal aimed at halting bloody clashes between government forces and protesters in Ukraine needs to be implemented quickly so that the country stabilizes, a US official told Reuters.

Follow our Twitter list for further developments in Ukraine.


Ukraine's bloodiest week

Click here to see our full coverage from Feb. 18 of Ukraine's deadliest unrest since independence in 1991.

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