Crimea's Parliament asks to join Russian Federation, Ukraine calls for US, UK assistance
The Parliament in Crimea have asked Moscow to allow the southern Ukrainian region to become part of the Russian Federation.
The parliament said if its request was granted, Crimean citizens could give their view in a referendum on 16 March.
Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the move had no legal grounds.
Crimea, a region whose population is mostly ethnic Russian, has been at the centre of tensions following the fall of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president.
Crimea has closed its airspace to commercial flights. A Ukrainian airline plane was turned back today on its way from Kiev to Simferopol, the region's main city, and had to return to the Ukrainian capital.
The captain told passengers that the Crimean authorities had closed airspace to all commercial flights and there had been no flights yesterday either.
Tension has increased in the region ahead of Sunday's referendum which pro-Russian leaders, backed by Russian forces, have called despite it being denounced as illegal by Ukraine's new rulers and Western governments.
New National Guard
Ukraine's interim leaders established a new National Guard today and appealed to the United States and Britain for assistance against what they called Russian aggression in Crimea under a post-Cold War treaty.
Blaming their ousted predecessors for the weakness of their own armed forces, acting ministers told parliament Ukraine had as few as 6,000 combat-ready infantry and that the air force was outnumbered nearly 100 to 1 by Moscow's superpower forces.
The national parliament in Kiev said it would dissolve the Crimean assembly if it did not cancel the plebiscite.
Viktor Yanukovich, whose overthrow last month after protests triggered the gravest crisis in Europe since the Cold War, insisted from his refuge in Russia that he was still Ukraine's legitimate president and commander of its armed forces.
Acting Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, who will visit the White House and United Nations Security Council this week, said a 1994 treaty under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet nuclear weapons obliged Russia to remove troops from Crimea and also obliged Western powers to defend Ukraine's sovereignty.
He said a failure to protect Ukraine would undermine efforts to persuade Iran or North Korea to forswear nuclear weapons as Kiev did 20 years ago. The terms of the Budapest Memorandum oblige Russia, Britain and the United States as guarantors to seek UN help for Ukraine if it faces attack by nuclear weapons.