Ukraine says Russia sending 'thousands' of troops to Crimea

Ukraine says Russia sending 'thousands' of troops to Crimea

Ukraine today accused Russia of sending thousands of extra troops into Crimea as the Kremlin vowed to help restore calm on the flashpoint peninsula and Washington warned of "costs" to Moscow should it use force.

Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh told the Ukrainian government's first cabinet session that Russia's armed forces had sent in 30 armoured personnel carriers and 6,000 additional troops into Crimea in a bid to help local pro- Kremlin militia gain broader independence from the new pro-EU leaders in Kiev.

Tenyukh accused Russia of starting to send in these reinforcements on Friday "without warning or Ukraine's permission."

The defence chief spoke as dozens of pro-Russian armed men in full combat gear patrolled outside the seat of power in Crimea's capital Simferopol, a day after similar gunmen seized control over airports and government buildings in the territory.

The rugged peninsula jutting into the Black Sea -- host to a Kremlin fleet and with an ethnic Russian majority -- has now effectively been cut off from mainland Ukraine, with airports shut down and a pro-Kremlin militia establishing a tightly-controlled checkpoint on the main road from the mainland.

Crimea has come to the fore of a Cold War-style confrontation between the West and Russia over Ukraine, a faceoff that has also exposed the ancient cultural rifts between the pro-European west and Russian-speaking south and east of this country of 46 million.

Pro-Russian gunmen seized Crimea's government and parliament buildings in Simferopol on Thursday before allowing lawmakers to appoint a new prime minister and call for a regional referendum -- moved forward today to March 30 -- that would proclaim even greater independence for the already-autonomous region.

Dozens of soldiers with no insignia but dressed in Russian battle fatigues and armed with Kalashnikovs then seized Crimea's main airport in Simferopol and Ukraine's Belbek military air base near Sevastopol -- home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

Crimea's newly-chosen prime minister followed that up today by fervently calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help restore "peace and calm" amid his standoff with Kiev's Western-backed authorities.

The UNSC discussed the crisis behind closed doors while US President Barack Obama -- although not referring to Russia directly -- warned that "there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."

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