by Shuai Rong
BRUSSELS, March 2 (Xinhua) -- The NATO on Sunday condemned Russia's "military escalation" in Crimea of southern Ukraine and expressed "grave concern" regarding the authorization by the Russian Parliament to use armed forces on the territory of Ukraine.
"Military action against Ukraine by forces of the Russian Federation is a breach of international law and contravenes the principles of the NATO-Russia Council and the Partnership for Peace," the NATO said in a statement.
The bloc said Russia must respect its obligations under the United Nations Charter and the spirit and principles of the OSCE (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), urging Russia to "de-escalate tensions."
The NATO called on Russia to withdraw its forces to its bases and to "refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine."
Furthermore, the bloc urged "both parties to immediately seek a peaceful resolution through bilateral dialogue, with international facilitation, as appropriate," and through dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the OSCE.
The NATO said it will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and "the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without outside interference."
Russia, for its part, is trying to justify its possible military action in Ukraine.
In a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country retained the right to protect its interests and Russian speakers living in Ukraine if violence spread in eastern Ukrainian regions and Crimea in the south, the Kremlin press service said Sunday.
Citing "real threats" to life and health of Russian citizens and Russian-speakers living in Ukraine, Putin attributed Russia's possible military move to "provocative and criminal actions by ultra-nationalistic elements that are actually encouraged by current authorities in Kiev," the Interfax news agency said.
In a conversation with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Putin said Russia could not stay aside if violent actions were taken against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukrainian regions and Crimea.
Russia would take necessary measures according to international law, Putin added. But both sides agreed that further escalation of the crisis in Ukraine should be averted.
Putin also discussed the situation in Ukraine with French President Francois Hollande.
Crimea, an autonomous, predominantly ethnic Russian region in southern Ukraine, became the center of Ukraine's ongoing crisis after armed men carrying Russian navy flags on Friday took control of the two airports in the regional capital of Simferopol, one day after gunmen seized the local parliament and government buildings.
Russia has a Black Sea naval base in the port of Sevastopol in Crimea.
The Ukrainian political crisis, which originated from public anger over President Viktor Yanukovych's decision in November to put on hold an association agreement with the European Union in order to get Russian aid, took an abrupt turn in the past two weeks as a result of bloody clashes between protestors and police. Yanukovych was ousted by parliament and had to flee to Russia.
Putin said on Saturday that no decision had been made on sending troops to Ukraine, although Russia's parliament had authorized Putin to use force.
NATO chief accuses Russia of threatening Europe's security
BRUSSELS, March 2 (Xinhua) -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Sunday accused Russia of "threatening peace and security in Europe."
"What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations Charter. It threatens peace and security in Europe. Russia must stop its military activities and its threats," said Rasmussen before the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission in Brussels.Full story