KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia's parliament granted President Vladimir Putin permission to use the country's military in Ukraine and also recommended Saturday that Moscow's ambassador be recalled from Washington over comments made by President Barack Obama.
The unanimous vote in an emergency session formalized what Ukrainian officials described as an invasion of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea. With pro-Russian protests breaking out in other parts of Ukraine, Moscow now could send its military elsewhere in Ukraine.
"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said before the vote.
Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and beat up supporters of the new Ukrainian government.
Russia's move sharply raised the stakes in the conflict 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. 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 intervene on the strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.
President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily. In Saturday's parliamentary session in Moscow, one Russian legislator said Obama had crossed a "red line" and the upper house recommended the Russian ambassador in Washington be recalled. It will be up to Putin to decide whether that happens.
In Crimea, the pro-Russian prime minister who took office after gunmen seized the regional Parliament claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the election of the election of Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister of Crimea was invalid.
It was the latest escalation 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.
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, a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine, is mainly Russian-speaking.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk opened a Cabinet meeting in the capital, Kiev, by calling on Russia not to provoke discord in Crimea.
"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."