MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin received permission from Russia’s upper house of parliament Saturday to send troops to Ukraine, responding to what he called a threat to Russian lives. The request was made and granted after what appeared to be a highly orchestrated series of assertions that were disputed by knowledgeable Ukrainians.
Oleksandr Turchynov, interim president of Ukraine, said: “We consider the behavior of the Russian Federation to be direct aggression against the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
After approving the troop request, the Federation Council said it planned to ask Putin to consider recalling Russia’s ambassador to the United States, to show displeasure over what it described as threats by President Obama over Ukraine.
The Federation Council, or upper house, unanimously approved authorization of Russian troops in Ukraine, not limiting any deployment to the Crimean Peninsula. But Putin has not yet decided on any action regarding troops or a recall of the Russian ambassador to Washington, his spokesman said Saturday night.
“Of course, he will make these decisions based on how the situation develops,” Dmitry Peskov told Russia 24 television.
U.S. officials said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke later Saturday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, and that Secretary of State John F. Kerry spoke with Turchynov, Ukraine’s interim president.
The rapidly unfolding chain of events began Saturday morning after Crimean Prime Minister Serhiy Aksyonov asked Russia for help to ensure “peace and tranquility,” saying that the government in Kiev was unable to keep order.
Then the Russian Foreign Ministry asserted that “unidentified gunmen directed from Kiev” had tried to capture the Crimean Interior Ministry headquarters overnight.
“As a result of this treacherous provocation there were casualties,” the ministry said in a statement. “With decisive action, the attempt by vigilante groups to seize the Interior Ministry building was averted. This confirms the desire of prominent political circles in Kiev to destabilize the peninsula. We encourage those who give such orders from Kiev to show restraint. We believe it is irresponsible to continue whipping up the already tense situation in the Crimea.”
That account was disputed in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital. Igor Aveytskiy, who was named by the Kiev government to serve as chief of Crimea’s national police, said in an interview that “all was peaceful” at the building overnight.
The story line was different in Moscow.
There, a council of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, asked Putin to intervene.
“The deputies are calling on the president to take measures to stabilize the situation in Crimea,” Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin said, “and use all resources available to protect the Crimean population from lawlessness and violence.”
Next came Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council.
“Perhaps in this situation we could grant the Crimean government’s request,” she said, “and send a limited contingent there to provide security for the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens living in Crimea.”
Then Putin made his request, and 30 minutes later a Federation Council committee approved it.
After the vote, Matviyenko said that while Russia was justified in approving the use of troops in Ukraine, neither NATO nor the United States had that right.
“We are acting in strict compliance with legislation and the constitution. One needs a reason to use such an extreme measure,” she told Interfax, saying the lives of Russians in Crimea were under threat.
Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, urged Russia to refrain from provocation.
“We call on the government and authorities of Russia to recall their forces and to return them to their stations,” Yatsenyuk said, according to the Interfax news agency. “Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military confrontation in Ukraine.”
In a tweet, he also said that Russia is violating the terms of the agreement with Ukraine on its lease of the naval base at Sevastopol.
Late Saturday afternoon, the national security council of Ukraine met to discuss the Russian move, Yuri Lutsenko, one of the organizers of the Maidan protests and a former interior minister, told the crowd in Independence Square. All the new members of the government were in attendance, he said, according to the UNIAN news agency.
“The Ukrainian state exists. It will continue to exist,” Lutsenko said. “Ukraine will remain a coherent European country.”
Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion and head of the opposition UDAR party who is now running for president, called for a general mobilization in response to the Russian move.
In a statement posted on his party’s Web site, he also called on the Verkhovna Rada, or Ukrainian parliament, to renounce the agreement permitting the Russian navy to maintain its base in Sevastopol.
The militant Ukrainian nationalist group Pravy Sektor, which led much of the fighting against riot police on the fringes of the Maidan, announced it would fully “mobilize” against the threat from Moscow.
“This invasion is not only directed against the Ukrainian people, but against all citizens of Ukraine,” the organization said on its Web site. “Specifically, much of it is directed against the Crimean Tatar people.”
The statement declared to “all Ukrainian citizens, regardless of nationality (including Russian), that our struggle is anti-imperial and not Russophobic.”
Lesya Orobets, a member of the Rada and an organizer of the protest movement, wrote on Facebook that “people who were no longer afraid of their mad dictator” and were able to overthrow him — a reference to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych — “should not be afraid of another dictator.”
She continued: “I know we have not yet had time to mourn for our people, to heal the wounds and hug our children. And again you have to find the strength to unite and protect the most valuable thing we have — freedom, Ukraine, life and dreams of our children.
“We won’t surrender to his will,” she wrote, referring to Putin. “We shall win again.”
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who helped negotiate a 1994 memorandum on Ukrainian territorial sovereignty, tweeted Saturday that there is “no doubt in my mind that Russia is violating its commitments.” He also called the Russian move a violation of a 1997 treaty between Ukraine and Russia that includes the lease on the Sevastopol base, which was extended by both parties in 2010.
Earlier, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted: “Russian military intervention in Ukraine is clearly against international law and principles of European security.”
Aksyonov, who became prime minister Thursday, belongs to the Russian Unity party in Crimea, which won about 4 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary election.
A political analyst in Kiev, Pavel Nuss, told the UNN news agency there Saturday that according to his information Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister just released from prison, will travel to Moscow on Monday along with Turchynov, the interim president, and Yatsenyuk, the new prime minister, for talks on the crisis, with the agreement of Putin.
That could not be immediately confirmed.
Tymoshenko is the arch-nemesis of Yanukovych, but she and Putin developed a good working relationship when she was Ukraine’s prime minister.
Englund reported from Kiev; Booth reported from Simferopol. Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.