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New head of Ukraine's navy defects and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims threat from ultranationalists forced intervention

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A Russian army officer helps an armoured personnel carrier drive on a street in Sevastopol (AP)

A Russian army officer helps an armoured personnel carrier drive on a street in Sevastopol (AP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia faces wide-ranging sanctions over Ukraine

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia faces wide-ranging sanctions over Ukraine

Foreign Secretary William Hague is meeting Ukraine's leaders as the crisis deepens

Foreign Secretary William Hague is meeting Ukraine's leaders as the crisis deepens

Pro-Russian activists carry Orthodox Icons at a checkpoint outside the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Ukraine (AP)

Pro-Russian activists carry Orthodox Icons at a checkpoint outside the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Ukraine (AP)

Demonstrators gather outside the White House protesting at the Russian takeover of Crimea (AP)

Demonstrators gather outside the White House protesting at the Russian takeover of Crimea (AP)

Ukrainian police secure the entrance of a seized local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, bearing a Russian flag (AP)

Ukrainian police secure the entrance of a seized local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, bearing a Russian flag (AP)

A Russian army officer helps an armoured personnel carrier drive on a street in Sevastopol (AP)

The newly-appointed head of Ukraine's navy had “defected” to the Crimea region, pledging allegiance to its pro-Russian leader Sergiy Aksyonov and surrendering the country's Sevastopol headquarters.

President Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday that Russian citizens and Russian-speakers in Ukraine faced an "unflagging" threat from ultranationalists, and that the measures Moscow has taken were completely fitting given the "extraordinary situation", the Kremlin said.

In a telephone conversation during which Merkel expressed concern about developments in Ukraine, she and Putin agreed that Russia and Germany would continue consultations in bilateral and multilateral formats to seek the "normalisation" of the situation, a Kremlin statement said.

The Ukrainian security council said it has fired Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, and that it would be opening a case against him for treason.

David Cameron announced yesterday that British government ministers will be boycotting Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics, which open on Friday, in the wake of the ongoing international crisis in Ukraine.

Earlier on Sunday, the country's acting prime minister saying that Ukraine is “on the brink of disaster” after hundreds of unidentified gunmen engaged in a standoff with troops at a base in the Crimean peninsula.

Emerging from a closed session of parliament in Kiev today, Arseniy Yatsenyuk described President Putin's decision to send in troops as a “declaration of war”, and said: “There was no reason for the Russian Federation to invade Ukraine.”

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Pro-Russian activists carry Orthodox Icons at a checkpoint outside the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Ukraine (AP)

Pro-Russian activists carry Orthodox Icons at a checkpoint outside the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in the Crimea, Ukraine (AP)

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen convened an emergency meeting today to call on Russia to “stop its military activities and its threats”.

“What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the United Nations Charter,” he said. “It threatens peace and security in Europe.”

He was joined in his condemnation of Russia's actions by a host of western powers, and yesterday US President Barack Obama held a 90-minute phone conversation with Mr Putin himself.

“President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law,” the White House said.

On Sunday afternoon undreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine's infantry base in Privolnoye, not far from the Crimean regional capital of Simferopol.

The convoy of at least 13 vehicles with Russian licence plates - each containing around 30 soldiers - surrounded the base and refused to allow Ukrainian soldiers to enter or leave. The forces inside the base have reportedly positioned a tank at the gate.

Eyewitnesses in Crimea earlier said that a convoy including a Tiger tank and two ambulances was heading for Simferopol from the Black Sea coast.

On Saturday night, Russian warships were sighted off the coast of Crimea - in operations which violate the country's agreement with Ukraine on usage of the Sebastapol naval base.

The movements come after Mr Putin was granted permission for a military intervention by a unanimous vote in the Russian parliament.

Yesterday Mr Yatseniuk had told reporters: “Military intervention would be the beginning of war and the end of any relations between Ukraine and Russia.”

Russian troops took over much of the strategic Crimean peninsula without firing a shot and the new government in Kiev has been powerless to respond.

Russia’s current position is a breach of the UN Charter and the 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, as well as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act, the White House has said.

In its statement after Mr Putin and Mr Obama's conversation, the US said it had “suspended upcoming participation” in G8 preparatory meetings, adding: “Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.”

That decision appears likely to be matched by fellow G8 member France. Foreign minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio today: “France's position is to call for the suspension of preparation ahead of the G8 meeting in Sochi as long as the Russian partners have not returned to principles in agreement with the G8 and G7.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsya said he had met both European and US officials and sent a request asking NATO to “examine all possibilities to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine”.

The BBC reported that what appear to be trenches are being dug out by Russian troops on the Crimean border. No shots have yet been fired in the growing crisis.

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Belfast Telegraph