- - Sunday, March 2, 2014

PEREVALNE, Ukraine – Hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded a Ukrainian military base Sunday in Crimea, blocking its soldiers from leaving. The outnumbered Ukrainians placed a tank at the base’s gate, leaving the two sides in a tense standoff.

The interim prime minister of Ukraine on Sunday called the move “a declaration of war” by Russia.

Speaking in a televised address from the Parliament building in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “pull back the military and stick to international obligations.”

He spoke two days after Russian forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine without firing a shot.

“There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk said after a closed session of his new parliament in Kiev.

Ukraine called up its military reservists Sunday, with Andriy Parubiy, the national security council secretary, saying forces must be “combat ready.”

So far, the new government in Kiev has been powerless to react to Russian military tactics. Armed men in uniforms without insignia have moved freely about the key peninsula, occupying airports, smashing equipment at an air base and besieging a Ukrainian infantry base.

Russia has its key Black Sea Fleet stationed on the Crimean peninsula – which was formerly part of Russia until 1954 – and nearly 60 percent of Crimea’s residents identify themselves as Russian.

Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. However, there has been no sign of ethnic Russians facing attacks in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine.

President Barack Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes on Saturday and expressed his “deep concern” about “Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said. Obama warned that Russia’s “continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.”

Unidentified troops pulled up to the Ukrainian military base at Perevalne on the Crimea peninsula Sunday in a convoy that included at least 13 trucks and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The trucks carried 30 soldiers each and had Russian license plates.

A dozen Ukrainian soldiers, some with clips in their rifles, stood on the other side of the military gate. Neither side would speak to AP journalists.

The new Ukrainian government came to power last week following months of pro-democracy protests against a pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the European Union. Yanukovych fled to Russia after more than 80 people died, most of them demonstrators killed by police. He insists he’s still president.

Since then, tensions have risen sharply between the two capitals.

Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced late Saturday that he had ordered Ukraine’s armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of “potential aggression.” He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.

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