SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports in Crimea on yesterday and Russian transport planes flew into the strategic region, Ukrainian officials said, an ominous sign of the Kremlin’s iron hand in Ukraine. President Barack Obama bluntly warned Moscow “there will be costs” if it intervenes militarily.
The sudden arrival of men in military uniforms patrolling key strategic facilities prompted Ukraine to accuse Russia of a “military invasion and occupation” — a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis.
In a hastily arranged statement delivered from the White House, Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval.
“Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing,” Obama said.
Such action by Russia would not serve the interests of the Ukrainian people, Russia or Europe, Obama said, and would represent a “profound interference” in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.
“Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, that would invite the condemnation of nations around the world,” Obama said. “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
He did not say what those costs might be.
Earlier yesterday, Ukraine’s fugitive president resurfaced in Russia to deliver a defiant condemnation of what he called a “bandit coup.”
Appearing for the first time since fleeing Ukraine last week, Viktor Yanukovych struck a tone both of bluster and caution — vowing to “keep fighting for the future of Ukraine,” while ruling out seeking Russian military help.
“Any military action in this situation is unacceptable,” Yanukovych told reporters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, near the border with Ukraine. Then, seeking to make a firm point, he tried — and failed — to break a pen.