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Anti-Yanukovych protesters wait to join a unit of a self-defense in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, Ukraine
Ukraine accuses Russia of ‘military invasion’ Three European states freeze Yanukovych assets

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, Feb 28, (Agencies): Ukraine accused Russia of a “military invasion and occupation” on Friday, saying Russian troops have taken up positions around a coast guard base and two airports on its strategic Crimea peninsula. Russia kept silent on those accusations but confirmed that armored vehicles from its Black Sea Fleet were moving around Crimea for “security” reasons as the crisis deepened between two of Europe’s largest countries. Any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine’s conflict, which saw pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych flee last weekend after three months of anti-government protests. Yanukovych vowed Friday at a news conference in Russia to “keep fighting for the future of Ukraine,” though he called any military action “unacceptable.”

Moscow has vowed to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea, where it has a major naval base, and Ukraine and the West have warned Russia to stay away. Russia did not confirm its troops were involved in Friday’s action in Crimea, which would be a major escalation. In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to warn Moscow against military moves in Crimea, saying they could further inflame tensions in Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday and expressed concern about any destabilization of Ukraine, her government said. She said any step that could contribute to an escalation should be avoided and “called for restraint with a view to Crimea,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement. In Kiev, Ukraine’s parliament adopted a resolution demanding that Russia halt steps it says are aimed against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called for a UN Security Council meeting on the crisis.


“I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation,” Ukraine’s newly named interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote in a Facebook post.
The chief of Ukraine’s security council, Andriy Parubiy, seemed to strike a less strident tone later in the day, saying gunmen had tried to “seize” the airports in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol but insisting in comments to the Interfax news agency that “the airports are controlled by the law enforcement bodies of Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service also said about 30 Russian marines from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet — which is based in Sevastopol — had taken up position outside the Ukrainian Coast Guard base in the area. It said the marines said they were there to prevent any weapons at the base from being seized by extremists.
AP journalists in Crimea spotted a convoy of nine Russian armored personnel carriers and a truck on a road between the port city of Sevastopol and the regional capital, Sinferopol. The Russian tricolor flags were painted on the vehicles, which were parked on the side of the road near the town of Bakhchisarai, apparently because one of them had mechanical problems.
Russia is supposed to notify Ukraine of any troop movements outside the naval base it maintains in Sevastopol under a lease agreement with Ukraine.


The Russian Foreign Ministry said movements of armored vehicles belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet were prompted by the need to ensure security of its base and didn’t contradict the lease terms.
A duty officer at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said it had no information about the vehicles’ movements.
Yanukovych made his first public appearance since fleeing Ukraine in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border. It was the first confirmation that he had left the country, and he said he was “forced” to do so only after his family received threats.
“I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine,” he said.
Yanukovych said he supports Crimea’s residents who are worried about “nationalists” in Kiev and added that Russia cannot stand by while events in Ukraine unfold. He denied, however, that this amounts to a call for military intervention.
“Any military action in this situation is unacceptable,” he said.

Freeze
Meanwhile, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein on Friday moved to freeze assets and bank accounts of up to 20 Ukrainians including ousted president Viktor Yanukovich and his son, after Ukraine’s new rulers said billions had gone missing.
The measures were announced as the crisis in Ukraine worsened, with armed men taking control of two airports in Crimea in what Ukraine’s new government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, although Moscow denied involvement.
The three countries did not say how much money was affected by the asset freezes. The European Union agreed to similar measures last week but they have yet to come into force.
Ukraine’s new prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk on Thursday accused Yanukovich of stripping state coffers bare and said $37 billion of credits had disappeared. In the past three years $70 billion had disappeared into offshore accounts, he added.
The Swiss government ordered the freezing of the assets of 20 Ukrainians, including the fugitive president and his son Oleksander, the Swiss financial markets authority FINMA said.
Swiss authorities said the asset freeze would come into force on Friday at noon.
The prosecutor’s office in Geneva said it had also launched a money laundering investigation against Yanukovich and his son.


“A penal investigation for severe money laundering is currently being conducted in Geneva against Viktor Yanukovich and his son Oleksander,” a statement said.
It said prosecutor Yves Bertossa and the police had searched the office of a company owned by Oleksander Yanukovich on Thursday morning and seized some documents.
Switzerland said on Thursday it would order banks to freeze any funds in Swiss banks found to be linked to any Yanukovich funds.
Austria said it would freeze the bank accounts of 18 Ukrainians as a precautionary measure until European Union sanctions entered into force.
“Austria has decided to freeze possible bank accounts and assets of 18 Ukrainian citizens in Austria. This has been done on the basis of an official request by the Ukrainian foreign ministry,” the foreign ministry in Vienna said.


After Ukraine suffered its bloodiest day since the Soviet era in protests that led to Yanukovich’s overthrow last week, the European Union agreed to impose sanctions such as visa bans and asset freezes on unnamed senior Ukrainian officials.
Austria said it would freeze accounts via a central bank decree under its foreign currency law. It did not identify the people affected or say how much wealth was seized.
“The decree from the National Bank provides the appropriate legal basis to be able to determine which assets are actually in Austria and to prevent potential abuse,” Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told the Austria Press Agency.
The EU cannot unilaterally tell banks to freeze assets without a legal decision agreed among all member states.


Ukraine’s acting prosecutor general said on Wednesday the country would ask international organisations to help trace bank accounts and assets controlled by Yanukovich and his allies.
Austria’s FMA markets watchdog has already warned banks to be vigilant about dealing with customers from Ukraine.
Liechtenstein will freeze the assets of 20 members of the former Ukrainian government including Yanukovich, a senior Liechtenstein government source said.
In London, the Foreign Office said it was still working with EU partners on implementing sanctions after they were agreed on Thursday last week. They have not named any individuals they will sanction yet.
Italy will take punitive measures if and when adopted by the EU, foreign ministry spokesmen Aldo Amati said. Spain said Austria had made a bilateral decision and Madrid would move in line with European Union policy on the matter.

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