Help stabilise Ukraine’s Crimea, Russian parliament tells Putin (Roundup)

Moscow, March 1: Hours after Crimean leader Sergey Aksenov called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help guarantee peace in the crisis-torn autonomous republic in southern Ukraine, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament said Saturday that Russian legislators have made a request to that effect.

State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin told reporters the Duma council had petitioned Putin, Xinhua reported.

“Deputies are calling on the president to… use all resources available to protect the Crimean population from lawlessness and violence,” he said.

Naryshkin said the parliament had also adopted a statement, expressing “deep concern about the way the sociopolitical situation is developing in Ukraine and about the escalation of the political crisis”.

The statement demanded the situation in Ukraine be brought back to a legal footing.

Earlier Saturday, Aksenov sought assistance from Putin to help guarantee peace in the republic.

“Taking into account my responsibility for the life and security of citizens, I ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to help ensure peace and calm on the territory of Crimea,” Xinhua quoted Aksenov as saying in a statement in the local media.

Aksenov, the Russian Unity Party leader who was appointed prime minister of Crimea by local lawmakers, also stressed that powerful institutions, such as the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards, should answer only to his orders and all commanders should obey his instructions.

The new Ukrainian central government ordered the replacement of heads of the Crimean police department Friday, which Aksenov said went against an agreement with the Crimean parliament under which the central government has no right to appoint directors of Crimea’s powerful agencies.

The central government’s appointment and the appearance of unidentified armed men on its territory forced the Crimean government to lose control of the situation, the statement said

Aksenov said Friday that Crimea and Russia had reached a deal on Moscow’s offering of financial aid to the largely Russian-speaking republic, adding that his government would elaborate on a plan to stabilise the economy and the Russian aid would help restore the situation in the Black Sea peninsula

Crimea is now the focus of Ukraine’s ongoing crisis after some 50 armed men carrying Russian navy flags took control of the two airports Friday in the capital of Simferopol, one day after gunmen seized the local parliament and government buildings.

Interim Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook web page that the Russian naval forces were behind the seizure of the two airports, though Russia denied any involvement.

Tensions escalated in the area this week following the dismissal of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, who held a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border.

Meanwhile, Ukraine Parliament Speaker Alexandr Turchynov, who is now the country’s acting president, urged Russian naval troops to refrain from going beyond the base of the Black Sea Fleet on the Crimea Peninsula.

Any troop movements outside the base “will be considered as military aggression”, he told parliament.

In April 2010, Ukraine renewed the lease of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on its Crimean Peninsula by 25 years in exchange for gas price discounts.

Turchynov’s remarks came a day after Russian President Putin’s order for soldiers to be ready for war games near Ukraine, the Kremlin’s boldest gesture since Yanukovych was ousted at the weekend.

However, Moscow denied that the previously unannounced drill in its western military district, which came amid a series of increasingly strident statements about the fate of Russian citizens and interests, was linked to events in Ukraine.

The snap drills had been aimed to check the military’s combat readiness and were not related to Ukraine, said Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.