The newly-installed leader of Ukraine’s Crimea region declared himself in charge of local military and law enforcement Saturday – and asked Russia for help.
Sergei Aksyonov, who was hastily voted in as Crimea's prime minister when armed men seized government buildings early Thursday, accused the new central government in Kiev of appointing a new top police officer in the Black Sea peninsula without coordinating with his regional government.
"Understanding my responsibility for the lives and security of citizens, I am appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide assistance in ensuring peace and tranquility in the Crimean Autonomous Republic," he said in the statement.
That call came despite a warning from President Barack Obama Friday that “there will be costs to any military intervention" by Russia.
Aksyonov heads Russian Unity, the largest pro-Moscow party in Crimea, where ethnic Russians form almost 60 percent of the population.
"As a result of the appointment, and considering the presence of unidentified military forces in the [Crimean] autonomy, military equipment and the inability of law enforcement to effectively control the situation, disorder arose in Crimea," he said in a statement posted on the Crimean Information Agency website.
He said that he had made a "temporary decision" to take over control of the military, police, air forces, navy and border guards, and urged those who disagree with the move “to resign.”
Russia responded quickly to the statement. "Russia will not leave the appeal unattended," a source in Russia's presidential administration told the RIA Novosti news agency.
The developments in Crimea have raised fears that Russia might use the plight of Russians in the region to stage a military intervention, although the Kremlin has so far been silent on the issue.
Masked militants seized control of Crimea's two main airports and blocked two main highways that connect the peninsula to mainland on Friday.
Ukraine accused Russia of sending 6,000 additional troops into Crimea Saturday, as Kiev and Moscow accused each other of trying to destabilize the region.
Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this report.
First published March 1 2014, 12:38 AM