UN Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine.
UN Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, March 3, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin at the Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, March 3, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Russia sent troops to occupy the Crimea peninsula at the request of fugitive Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Russia's United Nations ambassador said on Monday.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the UN Security Council that Yanukovych had sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, asking him to use Russia's armed forces "to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine,"

Churkin quoted Yanukovych's letter – which, he said, he was authorized to show to the council – as saying that "the life and security and the rights of people, particularly in the southeast part in Crimea, are being threatened." It continued that "under the influence of Western countries there are open acts of terror and violence."

Yanukovych requested Russia's intervention "as the legitimately elected representative" of the Ukraine and on the grounds that he believed the country was "on the brink of civil war."

Yanukovych fled to Russia after his ouster and said on Friday that he would not ask for Russian forces.

Both the United States and Britain expressed outrage at Churkin's explanation, calling the action a "violation of international law."

"So many of the assertions made today by the Russian Federation are without basis in reality," said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN. "The Russian mobilization is a response to an imaginary threat."

She added that "one might think that Moscow has just become the rapid response arm of the High Commissioner for Human Rights."

Mark Lyall Grant, British ambassador to the UN, said that Russia entered Ukraine on a "trumped-up pretext" and has no justification for its actions. "The idea that [Yanukovych's] pronouncements now convey any legitimacy whatsoever is far-fetched and are in keeping with the rest of Russia's bogus justification," Grant said

Monday's meeting of the council came as the West scrambles to respond to Russia's tightening grip on the strategic region, amid fears that the Kremlin might carry out more land grabs in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine.