* Ukrainian minister says armed men are Russian forces
* Russian fleet denies involvement
* Swiss freeze assets of Yanukovich and son
* Yanukovich reappears in Russia after week on the run
* Ukrainian currency pulls out of free fall
By Alissa de Carbonnel and Alessandra Prentice
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine, Feb 28 Armed men took
control of two airports in the Crimea region on Friday in what
the new Ukrainian leadership described as an invasion by
Moscow's forces, and ousted President Viktor Yanukovich surfaced
in Russia after a week on the run.
Yanukovich said Russia should use all means at its disposal
to stop the chaos in Ukraine as tension rose on the Black Sea
peninsula of Crimea, the only region with an ethnic Russian
majority and the last major bastion of resistance to the
overthrow of the Moscow-backed leader.
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov accused Russia of open
aggression and said Moscow was following a scenario simliar to
the one before it went to war with fellow former Soviet republic
Georgia in 2008.
A day after gunmen seized the Ukrainian parliament and
raised the Russian flag, a representative of Turchinov in Crimea
said 13 Russian aircraft had landed on the Black Sea peninsula
with 150 personnel on board each one.
More than 10 Russian military helicopters flew over Crimea
and Russian servicemen blockaded a unit of the Ukrainian border
guard in the port city of Sevastopol, the guard said.
A serviceman at the scene confirmed to Reuters he was from
Russia's Black Sea Fleet, part of which is based in Sevastopol,
and said they were there to stop the kind of protests that
ousted Yanukovich in Kiev.
Some witnesses also reported seeing Russian armoured
personnel carriers and at least one warship on patrol.
The fleet denied its forces were involved in seizing the
military airport near Sevastopol, where armed men later also
occupied the runway, and a supporter described the armed group
at the civilian international airport in Simferopol as Crimean
militiamen. Ukraine's commercial airline said later that it had
been refused entry into Crimean airspace.
Moscow has promised to defend the interests of its citizens
in Ukraine. It has said it will not intervene by force, but its
rhetoric since the removal of Yanukovich a week ago has echoed
the run-up to its invasion of Georgia.
Any armed confrontation in Crimea would have major global
repercussions, with Russia and the West already at odds over the
change of power in Ukraine and supporting opposite sides in
Syria's civil war. They have, however, pledged to cooperate to
prop up Ukraine's faltering economy.
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session for
later on Friday at the request of Ukraine's new leaders, who
warned the country's territorial intergrity was threatened.
Turchinov said he would not give in to
Ukraine's top security official, Andriy Paruby, said the
armed men in Crimea were taking their orders from the top in
Russia. "These are separate groups ... commanded by the
Kremlin," Paruby, secretary of the National Security and Defence
Council, told a televised briefing in Kiev.
One of the options being considered was declaring a state of
emergency in Crimea, he added.
The United States warned all parties not to inflame the
situation and said it had raised the issue of the reported armed
takeovers of the airports with Russia. U.S. officials were
seeking clarification of the origin of the armed men.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Moscow, which put
150,000 troops on high alert on Wednesday for war games near
Ukraine's border, had told him it had no intention of violating
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine's new
leaders should implement a political deal brokered by the
European Union before Yanukovich's ouster.
The Russian Foreign ministry said on its Facebook page that
Russia's Consulate General in Crimea would hand out Russian
pasports to the servicemen of Ukraine's now-disbanded Berkut
riot police. Protestors had accused the Berkut of firing the
live bullets that killed dozens of protesters in Kiev.
Yanukovich - who is wanted by the new, pro-Europe government
for mass murder after the protesters' deaths - reappeared in the
Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. The new authorities in Kiev
started moves to seek his extradition.
Yanukovich said he had not seen Russian President Vladimir
Putin but had spoken to him by telephone and was surprised the
Russian leader was not more vocal on the crisis.
"Russia cannot be indifferent, cannot be a bystander
watching the fate of as close a partner as Ukraine," Yanukovich
told a news conference. "Russia must use all means at its
disposal to end the chaos and terror gripping Ukraine."
He denied he had run away, saying he had been forced to
leave Kiev due to threats and and denounced "lawlessness,
terror, anarchy and chaos" in the country and said he had not
ordered the shooting of demonstrators that preceeded his fall.
Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein moved to freeze
assets and bank accounts of up to 20 Ukrainians including
Yanukovich and his son.
Yanukovich said talk of foreign bank accounts was "empty
Ukraine's new rulers have said loans worth $37 billion went
missing from state accounts during Yanukovich's three years in
power - a jaw-dropping sum even for a population now used to
tales of a lavish lifestyle and opulent residence outside Kiev.
The new Ukrainian leadership has said the country needs
almost as much as that - $35 billion - over the next two years
to stave off bankruptcy. It said on Friday it hoped to get
financial aid soon and was prepared to fulfil the reform
criteria of the International Monetary Fund to get it.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde said she did not see anything on
the economic front worthy of panic and urged the leadership to
refrain from throwing numbers about she said were meaningless
until properly assessed.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov accused Russian naval forces
of taking over a military airport near the port of Sevastopol,
where the Black Sea fleet has a base, and other Russian forces
of seizing Simferopol's civilian international airport.
"I consider what has happened to be an armed invasion and
occupation in violation of all international agreements and
norms," Avakov said on his Facebook page.
This met with a Russian naval denial of involvement in the
military airport action. "No Black Sea Fleet units have moved
toward (the airport), let alone taking any part in blockading
it," Interfax quoted a spokesman for the fleet as saying.
Near the military airport, half a dozen men in camouflage
uniforms with automatic rifles were blocking the road using a
truck with no licence plates. Reporters were kept from
approaching them by volunteer militia, who formed a second road
block about 150 metres away.
"Of course they are Russian," said Maxim Lovinetsky, 23, one
of the volunteers. "They came last night."
Firebrand Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky appeared
in Sevastopol where a crowd outside the city administration gave
him a hero's welcome, shouting "Russia, thank you!".
"If the people have a right to rise up in a revolt and
overthrow the authorities, why doesn't Sevastopol have a right
to do that?" he told them. Although nominally part of the
Russian opposition, he is widely seen as a servant of Kremlin
policy, used to float radical opinions to test public reaction.
The United States has told Russia to show in the next few
days that it is sincere about a promise not to intervene in
Ukraine, saying using force would be a grave mistake.
The Kremlin said Putin had ordered his government to
continue talks with Ukraine on economic and trade relations and
to consult foreign partners including the International Monetary
Fund on financial aid.
Yanukovich provoked protests in Ukraine in November by
backing out of plans to sign landmark deals with the European
Union and instead saying Kiev would seek closer economic and
trade ties with its former Soviet master Russia.
Ukraine's hryvnia rose on Friday from historic lows after
the central bank governor limited access to foreign currencies.
Dealers said the hryvnia was trading around 9.80-10.10 to the
dollar after weakening as far as 11.20-10.10 on Thursday.
The hryvnia had been in freefall as investors
worried about Kiev's ability to repay its debts.
Kiev's new rulers have said any movement by Russian forces
beyond the base in Sevastopol would be tantamount to aggression.
But they face a major challenge in Crimea which was Russian
territory until it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, during
the Soviet era. Separatism there has often flared up at times of
tension between Moscow and Kiev.
Armed men took control of Simferopol airport overnight and a
Reuters eyewitness said the men, dressed in full battle gear and
carrying assault rifles and machine guns, were moving freely in
and out of the control tower.
A man called Vladimir, who said he was a volunteer helping
the group, said: "We're simple people, volunteers ... We're here
at the airport to maintain order."