Tells Obama Russia reserves the right to defend its interests

Tensions flared on Sunday over Russia’s plan to use force in Ukraine to protect its interests, but President Vladimir Putin does not seem to have taken a final decision yet to act on his threat.

A day after the Russian Parliament granted Mr. Putin’s request to deploy Russian military in Ukraine, there were no reports of troop movements across the border. Mr. Putin reaffirmed readiness to use force, but added an important “if” to the deployment of Russian military in Ukraine.

The Russian leader told U.S. President Barack Obama, who called him in the early hours of Sunday, that “Russian citizens and numerous compatriots faced credible threats to their lives and health” in Ukraine.

“In case violence continues to spread to Ukraine’s eastern regions and Crimea, Russia reserves the right to defend its interests and the Russian-speaking population that lives there,” Mr. Putin said, according to the Kremlin press service.

The White House said that during their 90-minute conversation Mr. Obama expressed “deep concern” over Russia’s “violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity” and asked Mr. Putin to withdraw forces to bases in Crimea or face political and economic isolation. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s “incredible act of aggression” and warned the West was prepared “to go to the hilt” to isolate Moscow.

The U.S., Britain, France and Canada said they were pulling out of preparatory meetings for a G-8 summit in Sochi later this year in protest against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Canada has also recalled its ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

Meanwhile, the Russian military continued to consolidate its control of Crimea on Sunday.

Reports said it surrounded two Ukrainian coast guard bases, apparently to prevent troops from venturing out. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a local government source in Crimea as saying that a majority of Ukrainian military personnel on the peninsula had defected or pledged loyalty to the region’s pro-Russian authorities and that about 10 Ukrainian coastguard vessels had left the Crimean ports. Andriy Parubiy, Secretary of the Ukrainian Security and Defence Council, who overnight announced full mobilisation, later backed away, saying some reservists were being called up for drills only.

Ukraine’s Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk admitted on Sunday that the country’s armed forces were in a bad shape after “deliberate sabotage and undermining of the nation’s defence potential” over the four-year-long presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted last week. “At this stage we are trying to defuse the crisis by political and diplomatic means,” Mr. Yatsenyuk told reporters in Kiev.

Mr. Yatsenyuk said he had spoken on telephone overnight with Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who assured him that no decision had been taken yet in Moscow on the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine and it was so far “an option.”

More In: World | International | News