US President Barack Obama says there will be “costs” for any military intervention in Ukraine.
In a press conference on Friday night, Obama adds that the US is “deeply concerned” by military movements in the country, but that Russia can be part of an international effort for a united Ukraine.
On a day when words seemed far removed from actions on the ground, leaders call for co-operation to avoid conflict in Ukraine – while the military build-up around the Crimean peninsula continues.
Viktor Yanukovych, speaking from the city of Rostov in Russia, maintained that he is still president of Ukraine, and said the country had been seized by “nationalists, pro-fascist youngsters”.
In Russian, the ousted president also apologised to the “people of Ukraine” for not having the strength to defeat the Maidan protests that led to his departure.
He vowed that he would continue to “fight” for his independence, and would return to Ukraine when his safety was guaranteed. However, he said he would not take part in Ukraine’s elections, scheduled for May, because they are “illegal”.
Mr Yanukovych also blamed the west, the “so-called” new government, and Maidan leaders for the continuing unrest in the country, and said it was understandable that people in Crimea were fighting against the rule of “nationalists”.
He called on Russia to use “any means” to protect the people of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine the Crimean crisis has escalated – with armed men taking control of two airports, and Russian helicopters reported to have entered Ukrainian airspace.
Former US presidential candidate John McCain told Channel 4 News Russian President Vladimir Putin felt “emboldened”.
He said: “Putin views Crimea especially as part of Russia … he views the US as weak, he sees our failures in Syria, Iraq and I think he ie emboldened by that, and he is going to take steps to ensure that Ukraine, particularly Crimea, will remain part of Russia.”
Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to President Putin on Friday and said he should “respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine”. The Foreign Office has issued guidance advising against all travel to Crimea.
Andriy Paruby, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, was quoted as saying a “declaration of a state of emergency” in Crimea is one option being considered to resolve the crisis in the region.
Armed men were reported to be patrolling the Simferopol international airport and a military airport near the port of Sevastapol, where Russia has a naval base.
I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine interior minister
One of the men, a man called Vladimir who said he was a volunteer with the group, said the action was being taken to prevent “radicals coming on planes from Kiev”.
Ukraine’s border guard serivce reported later on Friday that 10 Russian helicopters had entered Ukrainian airspace.
Writing on Facebook on Friday, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the airports had been taken over by Russian naval forces.
He wrote: “I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms.”
Ukraine’s parliament urged Moscow to “stop moves that show signs of undermining national sovereignty and territorial integrity… (and) reject support for separatism in Ukraine, of any form”.
Mr Avakov said troops who had arrived at the airports over night did not “hide their affiliation” to the Russian Federation.
However, Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which operates out of Sevastopol, said its troops have not taken any action at the military airport.
But it did say that it had stepped up measures by its “anti-terror units” to protect areas where parts of the fleet were located in Crimea and the living quarters of service personnel and families “given the unstable situation”.
Tensions in Crimea, a region of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority, have been escalating since the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych a week ago, and his replacement by an interim leadership more favourable with the pro-European Maidan protesters.
On Thursday, Ukraine warned Russia that any troop movements outside its Sevastapol base would be seen as an act of aggression. Russia has said it will protect the rights of its “compatriots” in the region, and act “strongly and uncompromisingly” if they are violated.
This followed a group of armed men taking control of the regional government headquarters in Simferopol and raising the Russian flag.