KIEV, Ukraine — Russia executed a de facto military takeover of a strategic region in Ukraine as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests. The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the swift takeover of Crimea by Russian troops already in Ukraine and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.
The motion follows President Barack Obama's warning Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily, sharply raising the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine's future and evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship.
"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said in his request sent to parliament.
Russia's upper house also recommended that Moscow recalls its ambassador from Washington over Obama's comments.
Ukraine had already accused Russia on Friday of a "military invasion and occupation" in the strategic peninsula of Crimea where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called on Moscow "to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," according to the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."
The crisis was sparked when Ukraine's deposed president, Victor Yanukovych, ditched a deal for closer ties to the European Union and instead turned toward Moscow. Months of protests followed, culminating in security forces killing dozens of protesters and Yanukovych fleeing to Russia.
Ignoring Obama's warning, Putin said the "extraordinary situation in Ukraine" was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel stationed at a naval base that Moscow has maintained in the Black Sea peninsula since the Soviet collapse.
Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and beat up supporters of the new Ukrainian government.
Putin's motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine, where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev. Pro-Russian protests were reported in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern port of Odessa.
In Saturday's parliamentary session in Moscow, a deputy house speaker said Obama had insulted Russia and crossed a "red line," and the upper house recommended the Russian ambassador in Washington be recalled. It will be up to Putin to decide whether that happens.
In Crimea, the pro-Russian prime minister who took office after gunmen seized the regional Parliament claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the election of Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister of Crimea was invalid.
Ukrainian officials and some Western diplomats said that a Russian military intervention is already well underway after heavily armed gunmen in unmarked military uniforms seized control of local government buildings, airports and other strategic facilities in Crimea in recent days.
Aksyonov, the Crimea leader, appealed to Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea." Aksyonov was voted in by the Crimean parliament on Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building and as tensions soared over Crimea's resistance to the new authorities in Kiev, who took office this week.
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.
He said such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.
"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said. Obama did not say what those costs might be.
At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea.
Russia has kept silent on claims of military intervention and has said any troop movements are within agreed rules, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea.
Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.
Read Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more on this story.