Ukraine mobilized for war on Sunday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade, creating the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
"This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country," said Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, head of a pro-Western government that took power when Russian ally Viktor Yanukovich fled last week, Reuters reported.
Putin obtained permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine, spurning Western pleas not intervene.
Ukraine's security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on highest alert, the council's secretary Andriy Parubiy announced.
The Defense Ministry was ordered to conduct a call-up of reserves - theoretically all men up to 40 in a country with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for significant numbers of them.
"If President Putin wants to be the president who started the war between two neighboring and friendly countries, between Ukraine and Russia, so: he has reached this target within a few inches. We are on the brink of disaster," Yatseniuk said in televised remarks in English, appealing for Western support.
U.S. ready to go to hilt
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Western powers are prepared "to go to the hilt" to isolate Russia for its military incursion into Ukraine, "an incredible act of aggression" that may lead to visa bans, asset freezes, trade and investment penalties, and a boycott of a Russian-hosted economic summit of global powers in June.
Kerry said Russian President Vladimir Putin should respect the democratic process through which the Ukrainian people ousted their pro-Russian president and assembled a new government.
But President Barack Obama had pressed his case in a 90-minute phone call Saturday with Putin, calling Russia's actions "a clear violation" of Ukraine's sovereignty, and asking for his forces to pull back, and still the situation only grew more dire Sunday.
Putin told Obama "there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory", according to the Kremlin's readout of the phone call. Moscow reserved the right to intervene on behalf of Russian speakers anywhere they were threatened, Putin added.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia on Sunday to stop its military activity and threats against Ukraine, saying Moscow's action threatened "peace and security in Europe."
"Russia must stop its military activity and its threats," he said before opening crisis talks with NATO's 28 ambassadors, AFP reported.
Russian forces have already seized Crimea - an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base. On Sunday they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, although no shots were fired.
Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the land border, but so far they have not crossed.
However, pro-Russian demonstrators have marched in the east of the country and have raised Russian flags over government buildings in several cities, in what Kiev says is a move orchestrated by Moscow to justify a wider invasion.
Donetsk calls for referendum
Meanwhile, the city council in the eastern city of Donetsk has refused to recognize Ukraine’s self-imposed government and called for a referendum on the region’s status. The council has made Russian alongside Ukrainian the official language in the region, RT reported.
“Until all the legitimacy of the new laws approved by Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] is clarified, the city council [of Donetsk] will take full responsibility for its territories,” said the document approved by Donetsk City Council during the special session of March, 1. The report comes from Ukraine-based Zerkalo Nedeli newspaper.
Donetsk is the capital of the coal-rich Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Beside Donetsk, a major economic, industrial and scientific center, Donbass includes Lughansk and Dnepropetrovsk regions.
The Council called for a referendum on Donbass’s future, urging the local parliament to set the date immediately. The move is set to “protect the citizens from possible violent actions on the behalf of radicalized nationalistic forces,” the council said in a statement.
In addition, the members of the city council have voted to set up self-defense squads.
The council’s session was called as pro-Russian activists gathered in the center of Donetsk, demanding local authorities to hold a referendum on the future of the region. The protesters seized the regional administration building and hoisted the Russian flag above it.
Eastern Ukrainian regions are seeing massive pro-Russian demonstrations against the new self-proclaimed central government, with many government buildings being topped with Russian flags.
Pro-Moscow demonstrators flew Russian flags on Saturday and Sunday at government buildings in cities including Kharkiv, Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk. In places they clashed with anti-Russian protesters and guards defending the buildings.
The worst violence took place in Kharkiv, where scores of people were hurt on Saturday when thousands of pro-Russian activists, some brandishing axe handles and chains, stormed the regional government and fought pitched battles with a smaller number of supporters of Ukraine's new authorities.
Ludmila Petrova, 35, described the new authorities in Kiev as "slaves of the European Union" and said she favored Putin's declaration of the right to intervene.
"Maybe this will stop the hotheads in Kiev from bringing war to the Don basin and the Crimea. Maybe now they will think there is someone willing to defend these people."
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