Ukraine Latest: More Russian Intrusions; Obama, France Agree; Natural Gas Threatened?

This map shows the gas pipelines that go through Ukraine, and the Eurpean Union (EU)'s dependence on Russia for energy. 30% of the EU's gas comes from Russia.
By  | 

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Witnesses say they've seen dozens of military trucks carrying armed soldiers arrive in Crimea as Russia reinforces its presence in the disputed Ukrainian peninsula.
The Russians have denied their armed forces are active in Crimea, but an Associated Press reporter trailed one military convoy on Saturday. It included vehicles with Russian license plates and numbers indicating that they were from the Moscow region.
A Crimean-based spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces tells the AP that witnesses reported seeing amphibious military ships unloading around 200 military vehicles in eastern Crimea on Friday night. He says the equipment doesn't have insignia identifying it as Russian, but he says "we have no doubt as to their allegiance."
The amphibious operation appears to be one of the largest movements of Russian military forces since they appeared in Crimea a week ago.
The strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sent President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) fleeing to Russia. A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based there, as is Ukraine's.

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- A Ukrainian officer at a military base in Ukraine's region of Crimea says that pro-Russia soldiers have crashed a truck through its gates in an attempt to take it over.
Lt. Col. Vitaly Onishchenko, deputy commander of the base, said three dozen men wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms arrived late Friday. He said Saturday they turned off power and cut telephone lines and urged Ukrainian troops surrender their weapons and swear allegiance to Russia. The invaders left around midnight.
No shots were fired, but the incident reflected tensions running high in Crimea, where Ukrainian military bases have been seized or blocked by pro-Russia forces. Russia has a major naval base in Crimea.
Crimea's parliament has set a March 16 referendum on joining Russia, which has been denounced by Ukraine's government.

KEY LARGO, Fla. (AP) -- The White House says President Barack Obama is continuing his telephone outreach on Ukraine during his Florida vacation.
The president spoke individually Saturday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande (frahn-SWAH' oh-LAWND').
Obama also held a conference call with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The White House says the leaders agreed that Russia must pull its military forces in Ukraine's strategic Crimea peninsula back to bases it has there, allow access for international observers and human rights monitors and form a contact group to begin holding direct talks between Ukraine and Russia to reduce tensions in the region.
Russian forces invaded the strategic Crimea peninsula of Ukraine a week ago, a move that the U.S. and its allies say violated international law. Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has the right to protect Russian interests in Crimea.

PARIS (AP) -- French President Francois Hollande agrees with President Barack Obama that Russia must take steps toward pulling out troops sent into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula or face worse relations with the world community.
The French presidency said in a statement they spoke by phone Saturday and agreed that a planned March 16 referendum in Crimea -- home to many pro-Russian citizens -- on "lacks any legal basis."
They agreed Russia should let in international observers and quickly accept the creation of a contact group to allow for dialogue between Russia and Ukraine.
The statement said that unspecified "new measures" would be taken unless progress was made on such issues.
Moscow has refused dialogue with Ukraine's new leaders and been reinforcing its armed presence on the Black Sea peninsula.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four Central European nations are urging the U.S. to boost natural gas exports as a hedge against the possibility that Russia could cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine.
Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic made their appeal in a letter Friday to House Speaker John Boehner. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.
The letter says boosting exports would help address energy security challenges the region faces. The ambassadors say unrest in Ukraine has brought back Cold War memories.
Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian gas. Previous disputes between Ukraine and Russia have led to gas supply cuts.
Boehner has been urging Obama to approve more gas exports to undercut Russia's leverage. But the White House says that would have no immediate effect.