Moscow Heightens the Pressure on Ukraine

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Troops Seize Gas Facility Outside Crimea; Kremlin Considers Calls for Help in Eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian supporters rally in Lenin Square, Simferopol

Russia placed troops outside the Crimean peninsula and on the Ukrainian mainland for the first time Saturday, as the Kremlin said it had received calls to “protect peaceful civilians” in eastern Ukraine and is considering the requests.

Crimea’s breakaway government confirmed the incursion, saying its so-called self-defense forces, which are largely considered to be Russian troops, had seized a natural gas distribution station in Ukraine’s Kherson region near Crimea to prevent a cutoff of gas to the peninsula, according to the Interfax news agency.

The foreign ministry in Kiev issued a protest against the troop landing, and demanded an immediate withdrawal. The ministry said about 80 troops had landed along with four helicopter gunships and three armored vehicles. It warned that Ukraine “reserves the right to use all necessary measures to stop the military invasion by Russia.”

Russia’s first significant military move outside the Crimean peninsula could signal plans to escalate the conflict with Ukraine, since Crimea depends on mainland Ukraine for water, electricity and gas.

The move onto the mainland comes a day before Crimea is set to vote on whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia and as thousands of Russian soldiers engage in readiness exercises just across the border, raising already heightened concerns about Russian intentions in eastern Ukraine.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s acting president Oleksander Turchinov warned that there was “a real danger” of invasion by Russian troops across Ukraine’s eastern border, and that Ukraine’s parliament would convene Monday morning because of it. “The situation is very dangerous,” he said in parliament Saturday. “I’m not exaggerating.”

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