Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament Saturday for permission to use the country's military in Ukraine, moving to formalize what Ukrainian officials described as an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea.
Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in major cities in eastern and southern Ukraine, where protesters raised Russian flags and beat up supporters of the new Ukrainian government. The rubber-stamp parliament is certain to approve it in a vote expected Saturday.
It was the latest escalation following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president last week by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.
Putin's motion loosely referred to the "territory of Ukraine'' rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking areas in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev.
"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,'' Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.
He said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine's strategic region of Crimea. Putin sent the request to the Russian legislature's upper house, which has to approve the motion, according to the constitution.
President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday "there will be costs'' if Russia intervenes militarily.
In Crimea, the pro-Russian regional prime minister had earlier claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries.
Armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports and a communications center in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has accused Russia of a ``military invasion and occupation'' _ a claim that brought an alarming new dimension to the crisis, and raised fears that Moscow is moving to intervene on the strategic peninsula where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.
Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea is mainly Russian-speaking.
Crimean's prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, declared that the armed forces, the police, the national security service and border guards in the region will answer only to his orders.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk