Russian President Vladimir Putin has secured the vote of his parliament to deploy more troops in the Crimea region, despite warnings from Kiev and the west about the consequences of any military intervention.
President Putin requested the support of the Upper House "in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens". Most people in the Crimea and east of Ukraine are ethnic Russian.
Mystery still surrounds the identities of unmarked troops who have allegedly seized Crimea's parliament and state television hub. There have been claims of troops seizing airports and airfields and military vehicles have been filmed on highways in the region.
Crimea's newly elected prime minister Sergey Aksenov says he pleaded for Putin to help keep the peace. Aksenov says all forces in the region are now under his control and that any who do not agree should leave the force. However, in Kiev, new president Oleksandr Turchinov appeared to cast doubt on Aksenov's authority:
"The cabinet of ministers of Ukraine and other government agencies do not view Aksenov as a representative of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea."
The crisis in the Ukraine has spread beyond the Crimean peninsula to other Eastern cities with ethnic Russian majorities, including Kharkiv and Donetsk. In Kharkiv thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators marched in protest at the new Ukrainian government and hundreds attempted to storm the local government building. Stones and stun grenades were thrown and dozens injured.
In passing the motion the Upper House referred to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than simply Crimea, which could mean Russian troops also enter other regions.
US officials had earlier warned that the US and European nations may boycott a meeting of the G8 in Sochi – site of the recent Winter Olympics – should Russian forces become embroiled in any conflict in Ukraine. However now the Russian parliament has upped the ante further saying those remarks crossed a "red line" and called for the Russian ambassador to the US to be recalled.