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World scrambles as Russia tightens grip on Crimea

| Monday, March 3, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

KIEV, Ukraine — Warning that it is “on the brink of disaster,” Ukraine put its military on high alert on Sunday and appealed for international help to avoid what it feared was the possibility of a wider invasion by Russia.

Outrage over Russia's military moves mounted in world capitals, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling on President Vladimir Putin to pull back from “an incredible act of aggression.”

A day after Russia captured the Crimean Peninsula without firing a shot, fears grew in the Ukrainian capital and beyond that Russia might seek to expand its control by seizing other parts of eastern Ukraine. Senior Obama administration officials said the United States believes that Russia has complete operational control of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of the country, and has more than 6,000 troops in the region.

With the threat, Ukraine's new government moved to consolidate its authority, naming new regional governors in the pro-Russia east, enlisting the support of the country's wealthy businessmen and dismissing the head of the country's navy when he declared allegiance to the pro-Russian government in Crimea.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said there is no reason for Russia to invade Ukraine and warned that “we are on the brink of disaster.”

“We believe that our Western partners and the entire global community will support the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine,” he said in Kiev.

World leaders rushed to try to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

NATO held an emergency meeting in Brussels, Britain's foreign minister flew to Kiev to support its new government and Kerry was to travel to Ukraine on Tuesday. The United States, France and Britain debated the possibility of boycotting the next Group of Eight economic summit, to be held in June in Sochi, the host of Russia's successful Winter Olympics.

On Sunday evening, the White House issued a joint statement on behalf of the Group of Seven saying they are suspending participation in the planning for the upcoming summit because Russia's advances in the Ukraine violate the “principles and values” on which the G-7 and G-8 operate.

In Kiev, Moscow and other cities, thousands of protesters took to the streets to either decry the Russian occupation or celebrate Crimea's return to its former ruler.

“Support us, America!” a group of protesters chanted outside the U.S. Embassy in Kiev. One young girl held up a placard reading: “No Russian aggression!”

“Russia! Russia!” the crowd chanted in Moscow.

Ukraine's new government and the West have been powerless to counter Russia's tactics. Armed men in uniforms without insignia have moved freely about Crimea for days, occupying airports, smashing equipment at an air base and besieging a Ukrainian infantry base.

Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. His confidence is matched by the knowledge that Ukraine's 46 million people have divided loyalties. While much of western Ukraine wants closer ties with the 28-nation European Union, its eastern and southern regions including Crimea look to Russia for support.

In a phone conversation Sunday with Merkel, Putin “directed her attention to the unrelenting threat of violence from ultranationalist forces (in Ukraine) that endangered the life and legal interests of Russian citizens,” according to a Kremlin statement.

“The measures taken by Russia are fully adequate with regard to the current extraordinary situation,” it said.

The German government said Putin had accepted a proposal by Merkel to set up a “contact group” aimed at facilitating dialogue in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia's state-controlled media has played almost nonstop footage of the Ukrainian crisis, highlighting what it says are ultranationalist attacks on Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians by activists from Kiev or regions further west. However, AP reporters in Ukraine witnessed no acts of violence directed at Russians or Russian sympathizers in Crimea.

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