Sevastopol: The discord between Russia and Ukraine on Saturday sharpened when the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine`s Crimea region claimed control of the military and police and appealed to Russia`s president for help in keeping peace there.
It was the latest escalation of tension between the two countries following the ouster of Ukraine`s pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.
Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications center in Crimea on Friday.
Ukraine has accused Russia of a "military invasion and occupation" a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to annex a strategic peninsula where Russia`s Black Sea fleet is based.
Ukraine`s population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.
Crimean`s prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards will answer only to his orders.
Ukraine`s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a cabinet meeting in the capital, Kiev, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea.
"We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
"Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."
Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.
President Barack Obama warned Moscow yesterday "there will be costs" if it intervenes militarily.
Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward its southern neighbor after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after weeks of protests ended in violence that left over 80 people dead.
Demonstrators sought his resignation after he backed out of signing an agreement to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union instead of Russia. Yanukovych took refuge in Russia and still says he`s president.