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Russian Troop Convoy on Road to Crimea's Capital
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- A convoy of hundreds of Russian troops headed toward the capital of Ukraine's Crimea region on Sunday, a day after Russia's forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula without firing a shot.
The new government in Kiev has been powerless to react. Ukraine's parliament was meeting Sunday in a closed session.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister, says "We are on the brink of disaster"; he is urging Putin to pull back his military.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting that Russia has a right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.
There has been no sign of ethnic Russians facing attacks in Crimea, where they make up about 60 percent of the population, or elsewhere in Ukraine. Russia maintains an important naval base on Crimea.
President Barack Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for 90 minutes on Saturday and expressed his "deep concern" about "Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said. Obama warned that Russia's "continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation."
The U.S. also said it will suspend participation in "preparatory meetings" for the Group of Eight economic summit planned in June at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics were held.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius agreed, saying on French radio Europe that planning for the summit should be put on hold. France "condemns the Russian military escalation" in Ukraine, and Moscow must "realize that decisions have costs," he said Sunday.
But the U.S. and other Western governments have few options to counter Russia's military moves.
NATO's top official says Russia's military intervention in Ukraine is in violation of the U.N. charter and threatens peace and security in Europe.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke Sunday before going into a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's political decision-making body.
"What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations charter. It threatens peace and security in Europe. Russia must stop its military activities and threats," he said.
The NATO secretary general said he called the meeting "because of Russia's military action in Ukraine and because of President Putin's threats against this sovereign nation."
Rasmussen said officials will discuss Russia's activities in the Crimean Peninsula and "their implications for European peace and security and for NATO's relationship with Russia."
Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning the U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to its defense. But Ukraine has taken part in some alliance military exercises and contributed troops to its response force.
On the road from Sevastopol, the Crimean port where Russia has its naval base, to Simferopol on Sunday morning, Associated Press journalists saw 12 military trucks carrying troops, a Tiger vehicle armed with a machine gun and also two ambulances.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced late Saturday that he had ordered Ukraine's armed forces to be at full readiness because of the threat of "potential aggression." He also said he had ordered stepped-up security at nuclear power plants, airports and other strategic infrastructure.
On Crimea, however, Ukrainian troops have offered no resistance.
The new government came to power last week following months of pro-democracy protests against the now-fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his decision to turn Ukraine toward Russia instead of the European Union.
Ukraine's population of 46 million is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the EU, while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea, a semi-autonomous region that Russia gave to Ukraine in the 1950s, is mainly Russian-speaking.
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