UK & World News
Crimea: Putin Defends Breakaway Vote Decision
Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended a breakaway move by pro-Moscow authorities in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, despite warnings by the West it is illegal.
It came as Ukraine's leadership vowed not to give up "a single centimetre" of territory, as the crisis showed little sign of abating with Russia's actions in the Black Sea peninsula condemned as "aggression".
Mr Putin made it clear he supports the March 16 referendum being held in Crimea on leaving Ukraine to join Russia.
According to the Kremlin, he told Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call that "the steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula."
But Chancellor Merkel said the referendum violated both Ukraine's constitution and international law.
However, Mr Putin also said he wanted to find a "diplomatic solution" to the crisis, and agreed the need to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine.
Moscow, which does not recognise the interim government in Kiev, has so far ignored the threat of American and European sanctions designed to force it to pull back from Crimea, which is home to its Black Sea fleet, and where the majority of people are ethnic Russians.
The operation by Moscow to seize Crimea began within days of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych being forced from office, after three months of demonstrations against a decision to ditch closer ties with the European Union in favour of Russia.
In the latest development, officials reported Russian forces had taken control of a Ukrainian border guard post in western Crimea, trapping about 15 personnel inside.
A border guard spokesman said Russian troops now controlled 11 border guard posts in the region.
Footage has also emerged which appears to show pro-Russian forces firing on a Ukrainian military aircraft.
And there are signs Russia is flexing its economic as well as its military muscle, with reports it is likely to increase the price Ukraine pays for its gas supplies, having previously agreed to cut it.
Foreign observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have also been turned away from the region after warning shots were fired as they approached.
Meanwhile, clashes have broken out between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian protesters at a rally in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.
There have also been demonstrations in the Crimean capital Simferopol and Donetsk.
Warning of the threat posed by the continuing crisis, Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky's Murnaghan programme: "There are great dangers here.
"There's a danger everyday, every hour of a provocation of some kind, of something getting out of control.
"I think the Ukrainians have done very well to resist all provocation so far. Without that restraint something even worse would have happened."
Mr Hague argued Russia had made a miscalculation with its intervention in Crimea, as this could see Ukraine moving closer to the EU.
"Ukrainians will be more determined to do that as a result of Russians actions, not frightened away from doing so," he said.
Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington this week to discuss solving the current stand-off.
Mr Yatsenyuk told a crowd in Kiev: "This is our land. Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land.
"And we won't budge a single centimetre from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this."
Earlier, former world boxing champion turned politician Vitali Klitschko condemned Russia's actions in Crimea as "aggression".
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