Monday, March 10, 2014

Ukraine situation March 10 , 2014 - Russia and Putin stand firm regarding the Crimea Referendum set for Sunday March 16 , 2014 , what will be worthwhile to watch is what happens next regarding Eastern Ukraine ( noting rallies in Lugansk , Kharkov and Donetsk ) On the flip side , Kiev's PM Yatsenyuk and the West stand firm in their opposition to the Referendum and Russia's actions and tactics - it remains to be seen whether a face saving middle ground can be found , but at least there has not been blood shed between the Russian military and Ukraine's fighting forces to date

( One point of view for the Russian hardline taken on ukraine and russian interests there... )

By Valentin Mândrăşescu, Editor of The Voice of Russia’s Reality CheckFormer commodity trader, economist, journalist. Nomadic lifestyle. When not in Moscow, he can be found travelling across Eastern Europe.
When, on February 21st, Washington decided to default on the agreement signed between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and the so-called “democratic opposition,” including Neo-Nazis, it finally crossed the red line.
Washington has defaulted on all of its key agreements made with USSR/Russia during the last 30 years. Gorbachev was promised that Eastern Europe would not be taken into NATO. Country by country, it became part of NATO, and Yugoslavia was dismantled despite Russia’s objections. The US acted as the winner of the Cold War and guided its policies by the famous principle of “Vae victis!” Woe to the vanquished!
The “hawks” in Washington think they can push Russia around indefinitely, that Russia, in order to become an “accepted partner” in the West, would still try to negotiate, be diplomatic and peaceful.
Washington’s defaulting on an explicit agreement regarding Ukraine’s future and the prospect of NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine finally convinced Vladimir Putin and a big part of the Russian elite that there is no point in negotiating with the US. It means that from now on, no compromises are possible.
For America, the situation in Ukraine is a geopolitical game, another opportunity to hurt Russia’s interests. For Russia, it’s not a geopolitical game. It’s a matter of national identity, it’s an ethnic matter. Almost every Russian I know has relatives in Ukraine. Roughly a third of Russian senators and members of the government were born in Ukraine.
Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the biggest neo-Nazi group in Ukraine, issued a statement in which he called on Russia’s most wanted Chechen terrorist, Doku Umarov, to commit acts of terrorism in Russia. “Many Ukrainians with arms in the hands” had supported Chechen militants in their fight against Russians, the statement said, but “it is time to support Ukraine now.”
What would have happened to a warlord somewhere who called on Al-Qaeda to commit acts of terrorism in the US? He would have been killed by a drone strike without international warrant or court decision. If the US does this, then other countries are entitled to act in a similar manner.
The fact that the neo-Nazi leaders and their soldiers haven’t been disarmed despite the EU-brokered agreement signed on February 21st proves that they and not the “official government” are actually in control of the situation. But the US doesn’t care about the fate of the Russians who don’t want to live in a neo-Nazi-led state. The US wants to dislodge Russia from the region, and nothing else matters.
There are rumors circulating in the expert community in Moscow – and I have strong reasons to believe they’re true – that the decision to tackle the Crimean issue was taken by Putin personally. He has full support from a number of top officials, especially from the army and the secret services, who have no assets and no business abroad that can be seized by the US. Also, in 2013, the Parliament passed a law barring Russian officials from owning assets, except real estate, outside Russia. So, the officials whose assets will be frozen by the US sanctions are criminals under Russian law anyway – and Putin might even welcome the move.
The hard-liners in the Kremlin have received a tremendous boost from the US. Now, everyone who advocates for a softer stance on Ukraine and everyone who advocates for an “agreement with the US” is looked upon as too stupid to understand that Washington won’t honor its end of the bargain or as paid by Washington to lead Russia into another agreement that will once again be broken. America has lost most if not all of its ranking sympathizers or allies in Russia because they are either actively shunned or because they have to be silent.
Putin’s ratings are at two-year highs. Even his fiercest critics understand that his involvement in Ukraine has tremendous popular support. He will no longer have to cater to the needs of the pro-Western community. He is now supported not only by his usual conservative electorate, but also by the communists and nationalists who like his decisive actions and his disregard for America’s objections.
From the economic point of view, everyone should get ready for tough actions from Moscow. Sergei Glazyev, the most hardline of Putin’s advisors, sketched the retaliation strategy: Drop the dollar, sell US Treasuries, encourage Russian companies to default on their dollar-denominated debts, and create an alternative currency system (reference currency) with the BRICS and hydrocarbon producers like Venezuela and Iran.
Of course, some “anonymous sources” told RIA Novosti and Reuters that Glazyev was speaking “as an academic” and not in his official capacity, but it must be pointed out that those sources didn’t dare identify themselves. On the other hand, Glaziev’s projects more often than not become the cornerstone of Putin’s external policy, including the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union.
The Western media ignore another key supporter of hardline economic measures, Putin’s ally and trusted friend, Rosneft president Igor Sechin. At last October’s World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, Sechin suggested that it was “advisable to create an international stock-exchange for the participating countries, where transactions could be registered with the use of regional currencies.”
Until February 21st, Moscow was content with the slow expansion of its economic sphere of influence. Now, the hard-liners have the possibility to go all in and pursue their radical projects and strategies.
Here, in Moscow, almost everyone is certain that we’ll see a rerun of the “Georgian war” and that Crimea will be attacked by Ukrainian army at some point before March 16th. If you’re a trader, sitting on the fence for a week or putting on some hedges may be a very good idea. By Valentin Mândrăşescu, exclusive for Testosterone Pit.
The US offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid, the EU $15 billion. The IMF is working on its aid package. All to shift losses from lenders, bondholders, hedge funds... to taxpayers in other countries. But it won’t rescue the economy. Because it’s a cesspool of corruption and plundering oligarchs. Read... Aid for the Ukraine “Will Be Stolen” – Former Ukrainian Minister of Economy

Russia ‘Welcomes’ the US Destroyer Truxtun, by Moving Bastion Anti-Ship Missiles to Crimea

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Bastion launcher carrier were moved to Crimea last night.
Bastion launcher carriers were moved to Crimea last night.
Unconfirmed news reports claim the Russian Navy is deploying land-based ‘Bastion’ anti-ship missile systems as a response to the recent U.S. move entering two naval vessels to the Black Sea. The two American Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG-103) crossed the Bosphorus Strait Friday, headed into the Black Sea, as tensions simmer over Ukraine’s Crimea region. The Russians also moved two naval combatants from the Mediterranean Task Force back to the Black Sea Fleet. Tension is mounting in the Crimea Peninsula with the preparations for a referendum on independence from Ukraine later this week.
As of today, the Truxtun remain the only US warship in the Black Sea following the southbound passage of FF(G)-50 USS Taylor through the Bosphorus. The Taylor, a Perry class frigate was deployed to the Black Sea before the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games started. USS Taylor and the flag ship of the US 6th Fleet USS Mount Whitney were sent to the Black Sea to help with the evacuation of US athletes and spectators in case of an terror attack to the Games. However, when visiting the Black Sea port of Samsun, Turkey, the frigate damaged her propelled and had to be towed away to Souda, Crete for repairs.
USS Taylor being towed by the tug Coastal Voyager. The tug Kurtaran 1 from Turkish Coastal Safety Agency is preventing the ship from drifting at the back. Turkish Coast Guard vessel TCSG-90 is providing security. Photo via
USS Taylor being towed by the tug Coastal Voyager. The tug Kurtaran 1 from Turkish Coastal Safety Agency is preventing the ship from drifting at the back. Turkish Coast Guard vessel TCSG-90 is providing security. Photo via
The US Navy said in a statement on Thursday that the ship was bound for the Black Sea to conduct military exercises with Bulgarian and Romanian naval forces. According to the Montreux Convention, warships of countries which do not border the Black Sea can only stay in the waters for 21 days.
The Bastion anti-ship missile system was deployed last night (8-9 March) to Sevastopol from the Russian town of Anapa, Krasnodar, about 250 miles to the East. Follow bystanders recorded the movement of Bastion anti-ship launcher complex on the streets Crimea. The K-300P Bastion-P employs P-800 Yakhont (SS-N-26) anti-ship cruise missile hypersonic anti-ship missiles carried on mobile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) is a Russian. The missiles are used as mobile coastal defence systems, having an effective range of 300 km.
USS Truxtun Passed Through The Bosphorus March 8, 2014. Photo: Ms. Eser Çelebiler, via

Crimea invites OSCE mission to observe referendum on region’s future

Published time: March 10, 2014 18:24
A man walks in front of the Crimean Parliament building in Simferopol (AFP Photo/Genya Savilov)
A man walks in front of the Crimean Parliament building in Simferopol (AFP Photo/Genya Savilov)
The parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has sent an official invitation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send a mission to observe the referendum on the region’s future, slated for March 16.
The Supreme Council has handed over the invitation to Switzerland, the country that holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE. Crimean authorities invited observers from both individual OSCE member-countries and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to come to Crimea.
"I am confident that the parliament of Crimea will make it possible for them to be present at polling stations. This process is underway now and the referendum itself will be as transparent as possible,"Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said, as quoted by Itar-Tass.
On Saturday, Crimean residents – about 60 percent of whom are ethnic Russians – will cast ballots to decide whether the region will “become part of the Russian Federation as its constituent territory.”
They will also decide whether Crimea’s 1992 constitution, under which the autonomous republic is part of Ukraine but has relations with Kiev defined on the basis of mutual agreements, should be restored.
Preparations for holding the referendum are in full swing.
Crimea will allocate up to US$2 million for printing ballots and providing technical support. A total of 1,550,000 ballots will be printed.
Some 1,500 Crimean troops will guard polling stations during the referendum, Prime Minister Aksyonov said.
"We will have about 1,500 armed troops by the time the referendum is held. They will be placed on duty at all polling stations," he said. "The referendum will be guarded by armed people, primarily the autonomy's self-defense units and Armed Forces."
While Crimean authorities prepare for holding the referendum, radical groups plan provocations on the republic’s administrative border, according to unconfirmed reports from a Ukrainian Special Forces source, cited by RIA Novosti news agency.
"We are receiving information that Ukrainian radical groups are preparing provocations at the Crimean administrative boarder on the day of referendum, March, 16,” the source told the news agency.
The referendum has been brought forward twice from its original date of May 30 since it was appointed by local lawmakers last month.
The US has said it will not recognize the results of any referendum about the autonomous republic’s future, as Washington continues to consider Crimea a part of Ukraine, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt stated.
Earlier, President Obama said that a referendum in Crimea would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law.”
This stance has been echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also stated that “any attempt by Russia to legitimize the results could bring more consequences.”
Speaking to Cameron and Merkel over the phone, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed confidence that Crimea’s upcoming referendum will reflect the legitimate interests of its people.

Was The Price Of Ukraine's "Liberation" The Handover Of Its Gold To The Fed?

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A curious story, and one which should be taken with a mine of salt, has surfaced out of the pro-Russian newspaper Iskra, which reports - so far on an entirely unsubstantiated basis - that last Friday, in a mysterious operation under the cover of night, Ukraine's gold reserves were promptly loaded onboard an unmarked plane, which subsequently took the gold to the US.
From the source:
Tonight, around at 2:00 am, an unregistered transport plane took off took off from Boryspil airport.

According to Boryspil staff, prior to the plane's appearance, four trucks and two cargo minibuses arrived at the airport all with their license plates missing. Fifteen people in black uniforms, masks and body armor stepped out, some armed with machine guns. These people loaded the plane with more than forty heavy boxes.

After this, several mysterious men arrived and also entered the plane. The loading was carried out in a hurry. After unloading, the plateless cars immediately left the runway, and the plane took off on an emergency basis.

Airport officials who saw this mysterious "special operation" immediately notified the administration of the airport, which however strongly advised them "not to meddle in other people's business."

Later, the editors were called by one of the senior officials of the former Ministry of Income and Fees, who reported that, according to him, tonight on the orders of one of the "new leaders" of Ukraine, all the gold reserves of the Ukraine were taken to the United States.
Indicatively, according to the latest IMF figures, Ukraine's official gold holdings are just over 40 tons, having doubled in the past decade:

So just more disinformation and propaganda surrounding the Ukraine, or something more? GATA has submitted an inquiry into the New York Fed to get official denial (because it certainly won't get a confirmation) from the Liberty 33 folks.
Of course, the best source of validation, and refutation, of this story would be the people of Ukraine, alas since not even Americans are entitled to observe how much gold is in Fort Knox, somehow we doubt that the Central Bank of Ukraine will be any more lenient in providing visiting and viewing hours for its much more compact gold inventory. Especially since the local population is far more busy celebrating its "liberation" by western powers.
We hope, for their sake, they weren't also just "liberated" of all their gold, which after a brief stay 80 feet below the surface at 33 Liberty, will promptly find its way either to the Bundesbank, or to the billionaire oligarchs, based either in London or elsewhere, and currently in charge of "post-liberation" Ukraine.
Finally, putting this into perspective, 40 tons of gold is roughly what China imports every ten days.

Ukraine Lieutenant Colonel In Charge Of Crimea Unit Defects To Russia, Takes Soldiers With Him

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Mere days ahead of Crimea's referendum to join Russia (or not) and following reports of shots fired between Russian and Ukrainian forces, the Ukraine Defense Ministry reports (via Facebook):
Lt. Colonel Sadovnyk is the officer reported as 'kidnapped' yesterday in Bakhchisarai. It would appear Crimea is annexing itself as this comes just one week after the head of Ukraine's Navy defected.
The commander of a Ukrainian military unit, Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Sadovnyk, was kidnapped in Bakhchisarai on Sunday.

This was stated by the chief of staff of the military unit, Lieutenant Colonel Serhiy Hunder, according to Ukrainian media.

"It happened in Bakhchisarai,Sadovnyk returned from lunch...

As of Monday morning, hecontacted his wife between 07.00 and 08.00. He said thateverything was fine with him, but he was kept in an unknown location. No demands were put forward,"Hunder said, adding that the military are doing their best to search for the commander.
Via Bloomberg,
Ukrainian Lt. Colonel Volodymyr Sadovnyk, who was missing earlier today, comes back to his motorized battalion in Crimea’s town of Bakhchisaray to announce he’s defected, Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman for Crimea Vladislav Seleznev says.

Seleznev comments on Facebook

Defecting officer Sadovnyk was accompanied by armed men from self-proclaimed Crimean self defense, who fired shot in air and stormed battalion: statement

Sadovnyk asks those who don’t want to defect to leave battalion; Russian flag was raised: statement

EU diplomats preparing next level of sanctions on Russia

BRUSSELS, March 10 (Reuters) - The European Union is preparing to impose travel bans, asset freezes and other restrictions on Russia for its failure to "de-escalate" the crisis in Crimea, officials said on Monday.
While the formal decision to impose the sanctions is only expected to be taken when EU foreign ministers next meet on March 17, preparations on the measures have already started.
"There is no sign of de-escalation from Russia's side and so the EU may have no choice but to move immediately to travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit," an EU official said.
At a summit last week, EU leaders agreed to a three-stage process of increasing pressure on Russia over its incursion in Ukraine, beginning with the suspension of visa talks and negotiations over a new investment agreement.
A statement from the leaders said Russia had to start negotiating with Ukraine's interim government on a solution to the crisis "within the next few days" or face additional sanctions. It is those measures which are now being prepared.
The United States said on Monday it wanted to see "concrete evidence' that Russia was prepared to engage in a diplomatic solution to the stand-off over Crimea.
Reports from the ground suggest Russia is not yet "de-escalating" its presence on the peninsula. Moscow says it has no control over the Russian-speaking units that have seized Crimea.
Asked when the EU was likely to impose further sanctions on Russia, a spokeswoman for the EU's external action service said there was no fixed date at this stage.
"I can't confirm any precise time frame at the moment, but I can confirm that the preparatory work has started," Maja Kocijancic told reporters.
The preparation of EU sanctions usually takes several days to work its way through specialist committees and EU ambassadors before going to ministers. As well as asset freezes and travel bans, the steps are likely to include the cancellation of all EU-Russia summits.
If the measures are not ready for EU foreign ministers on March 17, they could be discussed by EU leaders at a summit on March 20-21.
The measures, if imposed, would mark the second stage in the European Union's three-step response. The next would likely involve an arms embargo, trade restrictions and other measures targeted at Russia's elite, diplomats said.
At the same time, the EU is taking steps to bolster Ukraine's access to the EU market.
On Tuesday, the European Commission is expected to approve measures that would allowUkraine freer export access to Europe's single market, which would bring benefits of nearly 500 million euros a year.
However, a fully fledged free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU will only be discussed after Ukraine has held presidential elections in May and appointed a new, permanent government, EU officials say. (Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Toby Chopra)


Monday, March 10

22:01 GMT:
The World Bank is prepared to offer Ukraine $3 billion in aid in 2014 to support “economic reforms” in the country, the bank said in a statement. It failed to specify particular conditions for the loan.
“We are committed to supporting the people of Ukraine in these difficult times and very much hope that the situation in the country stabilizes soon,” bank president Jim Yong Kim said.
"Ukraine's economy is facing a number of serious challenges that will require urgent action in the short term as well as sustained reform over the medium and longer term," the bank said.
The World Bank announcement comes in addition to promises from the International Monetary Fund, the United States, and the European Union to consider all means of helping Ukraine's struggling economy.
21:07 GMT:
Crimean authorities have ruled that local district administrations of the autonomy are now under control of and accountable to the Council of Ministers of Crimea and not the authorities in Kiev, the press service of the Crimean parliament announced.
20:36 GMT:
Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland has asked the Venice Commission to pass a verdict on the legality of Crimea’s upcoming referendum on succession.
"I asked the Venice Commission to prepare an expert opinion regarding the legality of the planned referendum in Crimea and express an opinion on the legality of the Russian State Duma's decision regarding the possible annexation to the Russian Federation of the territory of another country," he said in Kiev on Monday, as quoted by Interfax.
The Venice Commission acts as an advisory organ of the Council of Europe, and is comprised of independent constitutional law experts. It was created in 1990 to offer constitutional assistance in Central and Eastern Europe.
Jagland added that the Council of Europe is prepared to offer Ukraine expert advice on constitutional issues.
He noted that a monitoring group could help supervise the probe into human rights violations in Ukraine.
"We are talking about an international council of experts who could have been able to control the process of the investigation and establishment of justice in relation to people whose rights have been violated,"Jagland said.
20:04 GMT:
More than 1 billion hryvna (at least $110 million) belonging to the regional budget of Crimea, has been frozen by the coup-appointed government in Kiev, according to the region’s treasury department. The aim was to “leave 200 thousand employees without pay, and 180 thousand children without subsidies,” according to a statement put out by the Crimean parliament. Local lawmakers also said that the asset freeze was carried out to sabotage the independence referendum on March 16.
19:49 GMT:
Pro-Russian former Kharkov region Governor Mikhail Dobkin has been arrested in Kiev and will face charges of “inciting violations of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and anti-constitutional behavior," according to his lawyer Yulia Pletneva.

The exact nature of Dobkin’s whereabouts and potential charges against him had been a source of speculation in the Ukrainian media over the past fortnight. At various points, the former mayor - then governor of one of the most populous areas of the country - had been accused of attempting to flee Ukraine and resisting arrest.

Dobkin, who has said that he plans to run in May’s presidential election, has persistently denied those reports, and voluntarily entered the police station prior to his detention.

Pletneva said that Dobkin will ask to be placed under house arrest, and will plead ‘not guilty’ to all charges.
18:54 GMT:
Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov says he has “reached an agreement” with the Tatar minority that constitutes more than 10 percent of the population of the peninsula. According to Aksenov, Tatar representatives will be offered a vice premiership, and at least two more posts in the local government, following personal negotiations with official and informal community leaders.

“We are all for friendly relations between ethnicities,” said Aksenov, who pointed out that Tatar representation in local government would almost double.

“[If Crimea joins Russia] the Tatars will be subject to Russian laws, which allow different groups to exist side by side. They will have the same rights as us – as Russian citizens.”
18:27 GMT:
On Monday, NATO gave the go-ahead to Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) for reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania in order help monitor the crisis in Ukraine.
15:49 GMT:
Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has denied rumors about the Russian military boasting a contingent in the Trans-Dniester Region.
"Even theoretically, it is impossible. Apparently, rumors are being spread to aggravate the already uneasy situation in the region. We are following the situation in the Trans-Dniester Region and know what is happening there. There are no grounds for anxiety,” Leanca said, commenting on the information reported in Moldovian media.
14:44 GMT:
Russia has prepared its own counter proposals to the US regarding the resolution of the political crisis in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Vladimir Putin.

“They are aimed at bringing the situation [in Ukraine] into the framework of international law, with the interests of all Ukrainians, with no exceptions made, taken into account,”
 the Russian FM is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency as saying.

As for the set of measures proposed by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, last week, the Russian side is dissatisfied that they were “put together in line with the presence of an alleged conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Lavrov stressed.
Participants in a rally in Chelyabinsk held to support the population of Ukraine and Crimea. (RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk)
Participants in a rally in Chelyabinsk held to support the population of Ukraine and Crimea. (RIA Novosti/Aleksandr Kondratuk)
14:26 GMT:
The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed hope that US diplomats will pay more attention to the consequences of “uncontrolled circulation of arms, stolen by the militants from weapon and ammunition depots” in Ukraine.

The ministry has called such incidents “really dangerous and unpredictable,” citing reports of dozens of Igla man-portable air defense systems going missing in the country after the coup.

Participants in a rally in Chelyabinsk held to support the population of Ukraine and Crimea (RIA Novosti / Aleksandr Kondratuk)
Participants in a rally in Chelyabinsk held to support the population of Ukraine and Crimea (RIA Novosti / Aleksandr Kondratuk)

07:58 GMT:
Russia expressed outrage over the reported attack of masked gunmen, supposedly members of the radical group Right Sector, on a peaceful demonstration in Kharkov on Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also criticized the coupe-imposed government for encroaching on freedom of the press by barring seven Russian journalists from entering Ukraine, on a pretext of allegedly biased reporting, and for the ongoing blockade of travel between Russia and Ukraine.
The statement said western countries, rights organizations and media are keeping a “shamefaced silence” on these issues, which puts in question their adherence to objectivity and democracy.
03:24 GMT:
Chinese President Xi Jinping has told US President Barack Obama that all sides need to act with calm and restraint in the Ukraine crisis to avoid an escalation of tensions, China's foreign ministry says. "Political and diplomatic routes must be used to resolve the crisis," the Chinese leader said on Monday.


PM vows to protect Ukraine from Russia

Rival rallies across country lead to scuffles as Arseniy Yatsenyuk vows not to give "an inch" of territory to Russia.

Last updated: 09 Mar 2014 13:53
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Sunday marks 200 years since the birth of Ukraine's national hero, the poet Taras Shevchenko [Al Jazeera]

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has vowed Ukraine would not give "an inch" of its territory to Russia, at a rally of thousands of people in Kiev in honour of 19th-century national hero Taras Shevchenko.
"This is our land. We will not give an inch of it. Russia and its president should know that," Yatsenyuk said on Sunday after Russian forces and pro-Kremlin gunmen seized control of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea.

Yatseniuk will visit Washington this week for talks as tensions build over Russian forces' seizure of the Crimea, a White House official confirmed on Sunday. No other details about the talks were immediately available from Washington officials.

"I am going to the US for meetings at the highest level aimed at settling the situation in Ukraine," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Yatsenyuk as telling a government meeting.

The developments come as clashes erupted between pro-Ukrainians and pro-Russians at Sevastopol, AFP news agency reported.

In Simferopol, hundreds gathered at a pro-Russia rally in front of a statue of Lenin.

Protester Vasiliy Bulahov told Al Jazeera he did not think Ukraine's government was legitimate. "We are Russian and... Russia and Crimea [are] together forever," he said.
Trouble in the ex-Soviet state has continued as the government struggles to contain upheaval amid a standoff between Russia and the West over Crimea that shows no sign of easing.

Sunday marks 200 years since the birth of Ukraine's national hero, the poet Taras Shevchenko, and patriotic rallies were held in Kiev and - in a show of defiance of Russia's de facto control over Crimea - the peninsula's key cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol.

Pro-Russian protesters held a counter-rally in the tense eastern city of Donetsk, where clashes were feared between them and pro-Kiev demonstrators also planning to celebrate Shevchenko.

The internal wrangling over Ukraine's identity and future were mirrored on the international stage by escalating hostilities between Russia and the West.

Russian forces tightened their grip on Crimea on Sunday despite a US warning to Moscow that annexing the southern Ukrainian region would close the door to diplomacy in a tense East-West standoff.
Russian forces' seizure of the Black Sea peninsula has been bloodless but tensions are mounting following the decision by pro-Russian groups that have taken over the regional parliament to make Crimea part of Russia.

Armed intervention

In the latest armed action, Russians took over a Ukrainian border post on the western edge of Crimea at around 6am (04:00) GMT, trapping about 30 personnel inside, a border guard spokesman said.

The spokesman, Oleh Slobodyan, said Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts across Crimea, a former Russian territory that is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and has an ethnic Russian majority.
On Saturday, pro-Kremlin militia fired warning shots to stop foreign observers from entering Crimea, and Moscow threatened to suspend its participation in nuclear arms monitoring deals.

It was the third straight day that civilian and military observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) tried and failed to enter the Black Sea peninsula to check on the standoff between overpowered Ukrainian troops and a mass of Russian forces and Kremlin-backed militias.
The OSCE monitoring mission is an instrumental part of a three-pronged diplomatic push by US President Barack Obama that also includes a call for Russia to pull its Crimean troops back to their barracks and Ukraine to hold early presidential polls in May.


Putin defends Crimean referendum legitimacy to EU leaders as Ukraine's southeast rallies

Published time: March 09, 2014 21:19
Edited time: March 09, 2014 22:39

Pro-Russian demonstrators attend a rally in Donetsk March 9, 2014.(Reuters / Konstantin Chernichkin )
Pro-Russian demonstrators attend a rally in Donetsk March 9, 2014.(Reuters / Konstantin Chernichkin )
Crimea’s upcoming referendum will reflect the legitimate interests of its people, Russian President Vladimir Putin told two EU leaders over the phone. Inspired by Crimea’s actions, eastern Ukraine is also protesting the coup-imposed government in Kiev.
Putin on Sunday had a top-level conversation on the situation in Ukraine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, according to a statement issued by the Kremlin press service.
The Russian president “underlined in particular that the steps taken by Crimea’s legitimate authorities are based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula’s population,” the statement said.
The “lack of any action” on part of the current Kiev authorities with regard to ultra-nationalists and radical forces acting in Ukraine has particularly been noted by Putin.
While Putin reminded that the power in Kiev was seized in an unconstitutional armed coup, Merkel stressed that, according to Europe’s view, the Crimean referendum violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L-R) sit to watch a fragment of the ballet "Ruslan and Lyudmila" during the G20 Summit in Peterhof near St. Petersburg September 6, 2013.(Reuters / Michael Klimentyev)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L-R) sit to watch a fragment of the ballet "Ruslan and Lyudmila" during the G20 Summit in Peterhof near St. Petersburg September 6, 2013.(Reuters / Michael Klimentyev)
The German Chancellor also “pointed out the urgency of finally coming to a substantial result” on the issue of forming the “international contact group” on Ukraine, Reuters reported.
Despite the difference of opinions, the sides have agreed that the de-escalation of tension in Ukraine is in everyone’s interest, the Kremlin statement notes.
Meanwhile, the coup-imposed Kiev government has stepped up pressure on Crimea, blocking the electronic system of the region’s treasury, freezing the autonomy’s accounts, and ramping up the presence of border police on the autonomy’s borders.
According to Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev, Kiev’s recent moves will not affect state payments, including pensions, and Crimean authorities are now opening accounts in Russian banks instead of relying on the frozen ones.
Temirgaliev also told Interfax that authorities are expecting that some additional railway traffic to and from Russia will be ferried over the Kerch Strait. A bridge connecting Kerch and Russia’s Krasnodar Region is also being built “at a rapid pace,” he said.
The future status of the region has yet to be decided by its people; the All-Crimean referendum will take place on March 16.
According to the speaker of the Supreme Council of Crimea, Vladimir Konstantinov, Crimea would prefer to keep its status of autonomous parliamentary republic in the case of a favorable outcome of the referendum.

Southeastern Ukraine rallies against govt

On Sunday, thousands of anti-Maidan demonstrators rallying in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk blocked and occupied the regional administration building, hoisting a Russian flag on top. The protesters have demanded that Mikhail Bolotskikh, the region’s head, step down. Bolotskikh was appointed by the self-proclaimed Kiev authorities.
Some 3,000 people took part in the rally and about 1,000 broke inside the building, according to Itar-Tass and local media reports. Twitter users claimed that Bolotskikh has already signed his resignation and escaped the city center in a car through a “disgrace corridor” formed by the protesters.

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Pro-Russian protesters take over regional administration building in Lugansk, Eastern Ukraine

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