Ukraine mobilised for war yesterday after Russian president Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade, creating the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
“This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country,” said Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of a pro-Western government that took power when Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych fled last week.
Putin obtained permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine.
Russian forces have already seized Crimea — an isolated Black Sea peninsula where Moscow has a naval base. Yesterday they surrounded several small Ukrainian military outposts there and demanded the Ukrainian troops disarm. Some refused, although no shots were fired.
Russia has staged war games with 150,000 troops along the land border, but so far they have not crossed.
Ukraine’s security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on highest alert, the council’s secretary Andriy Parubiy announced.
The Defence Ministry was ordered to conduct a call-up of reserves — theoretically all men up to 40 in a country with universal male conscription, though Ukraine would struggle to find extra guns or uniforms for significant numbers of them.
“If president Putin wants to be the president who started the war between two neighbouring and friendly countries, between Ukraine and Russia so: he has reached this target within a few inches. We are on the brink of disaster,” Yatseniuk said in televised remarks in English, appealing for Western support.
Of potentially even greater concern than Russia’s seizure of majority ethnic Russian Crimea are eastern swathes of the country, where most ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian as a native language.
Those areas saw more demonstrations yesterday after violent protests on Saturday, and for a second day pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisted flags at government buildings and called for Russia to defend them.
Washington has proposed sending monitors to Ukraine under the flags of the United Nations or Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, bodies where Moscow would have a veto.