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Ukraine

Russian moves raise the stakes

Tension plays out in Crimea region

  • A boy is helped by his mother to light a candle inside an improvised church at the Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

    A boy is helped by his mother to light a candle inside an improvised church at the Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

  • Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn't immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

    Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn't immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

  • Anti-Yanukovych protesters riding on top of an army armored vehicle drive though a street in central Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

    Anti-Yanukovych protesters riding on top of an army armored vehicle drive though a street in central Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

  • Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn't immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

    Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn't immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

  • New prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaks to lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukrainian lawmakers chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister. He will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

    New prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaks to lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukrainian lawmakers chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister. He will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

  • An anti-Yanukovych protester serves hot tea at an improvised coffee shop at the Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

    An anti-Yanukovych protester serves hot tea at an improvised coffee shop at the Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

  • A boy is helped by his mother to light a candle inside an improvised church at the Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
  • Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn't immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
  • Anti-Yanukovych protesters riding on top of an army armored vehicle drive though a street in central Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
  • Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine's acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn't immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
  • New prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaks to lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukrainian lawmakers chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister. He will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
  • An anti-Yanukovych protester serves hot tea at an improvised coffee shop at the Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Masked gunmen stormed parliament in Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region yesterday as Russian fighter jets scrambled to patrol borders, while the newly formed government pledged to prevent a national breakup with strong backing from the West – the stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

Moscow granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, state media said. He was said to be holed up in a luxury government retreat and to have scheduled a news conference today near the Ukrainian border.

As gunmen wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms erected a sign reading “Crimea is Russia” in the provincial capital, Ukraine’s interim prime minister declared the Black Sea territory “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

The escalating conflict sent Ukraine’s finances plummeting further, prompting Western leaders to prepare an emergency financial package.

Yanukovych, whose abandonment of closer ties to Europe in favor of a bailout loan from Russia set off three months of protests, finally fled by helicopter last week as his allies deserted him. The humiliating exit was a severe blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been celebrating his signature Olympics even as Ukraine’s drama came to a head. The Russian leader has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine – a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization – closer into Moscow’s orbit.

Yesterday’s dramatic developments posed an immediate challenge to Ukraine’s new authorities as they named an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. Crimea, which was seized by Russian forces in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, was once the crown jewel in Russian and then Soviet empires.

It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia – a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea was in an independent Ukraine.

Obama is going to be mad when he sees this on the news Monday...

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