Russia may be preparing a further military incursion to Ukrainian territory, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yurii Klymenko, told UN diplomats at a briefing on the human rights situation in Ukraine on Thursday.
"There are indications that Russia is on its way to unleash a full blown military intervention in Ukraine's east and south," Klymenko said.
His statement was widely supported by other ambassadors, but challenged by a Russian diplomat, who read a prepared statement justifying Russia's actions so far.
Klymenko also said that Ukraine will not initiate a trade war with Russia and hopes to use the World Trade Organization to resolve any such disputes initiated by Russia. "We are very much interested in having normal trade relations with Russia," Yurii Klymenko said, adding that he expected Russia to restrict trade in the wake of its annexation of Crimea.
Russia said it will boost its military presence in Crimea to protect against external threats, state news agency Itar-Tass quoted Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov as saying on Thursday, just before Russia's lower house of parliament approved by a wide margin a treaty incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation.
"It will be necessary to develop the military infrastructure on the peninsula so that Crimea would be a worthy representative of the Russian Federation and be protected against all possible encroachments," he said.
A senior official said Thursday that Ukrainian border guards in Crimea, under the control of Russia's military, have started redeploying to regions on the mainland. "We have started the gradual redeployment of our servicemen to the territory of Kherson and Mikolayiv regions," Pavlo Shysholin, deputy head of the state border guard service, told a news conference. Shysholin also said about 1,000 civilians had so far left the peninsula.
Earlier Thursday, Ukraine's acting president said the commander of the country's navy had been freed after being held by Russian forces and local Crimean militia at the navy's headquarters.
Rear Adm. Sergei Haiduk and an unspecified number of civilians were held for hours after the navy's base in Sevastopol was stormed Wednesday. Early reports said the storming was conducted by a self-described local defense force, but the statement by President Oleksandr Turchynov on Thursday said Russian forces were involved.
The statement said Haiduk and the civilians were released, but did not give details.
The storming came hours before Ukraine announced plans to withdraw troops from Crimea, which was formally annexed by Russia this week. The annexation is widely regarded abroad as illegitimate.
Meanwhile, Putin's approval rating has jumped to 76% in the week ending March 15/16, according to a Tweet by Charlie Robertson, a global economist.
Putin's approval rating rockets to 76% in week ending 15/16 March. Reckon we see 80% in next poll pic.twitter.com/TQyrc3f2uw— Charlie Robertson (@RencapMan) March 20, 2014
Also no Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech in parliament that EU leaders would signal their readiness to ramp up punitive measures against Russia, including politically sensitive economic sanctions. "The EU summit today and tomorrow will make clear that we are ready at any time to introduce phase-3 measures if there is a worsening of the situation," Merkel said.
She added that the Group of Eight format, which includes Russia, was effectively dead so long as the diplomatic showdown with Moscow continued. Russia has the presidency of the G8 and had been scheduled to hold a summit in Sochi in June.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now