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Obama to Putin: Russia is Clearly Breaking International Law in Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has held a 90-minute telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to express what the White House calls deep concern for what is happening in Ukraine.

Officials say Mr. Obama told the Russian president that Russia is in clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and international law.

President Obama said the United States is suspending participation in meetings to prepare for the G8 economic summit later this year in Sochi, Russia, which hosted the Winter Olympic Games.

Russian news agencies say Mr. Putin told the president that Moscow reserves the right to protect ethnic Russians if there is violence in Crimea or eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Obama said the appropriate way to address this matter is by direct engagement with the Ukrainian government and through international monitors.

President Obama also discussed Ukraine with French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The White House said the leaders agreed that Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu Saturday. Officials say Hagel told Shoygu that without a change on the ground, Russia is risking more regional instability, global isolation, and an escalation that would threaten European and international security.

Earlier Saturday, Russian lawmakers approved President Putin's request to send troops to Crimea. He has not yet made a decision on doing so.

NATO, meanwhile announced its ambassadors will meet Sunday in Brussels to discuss the escalating crisis in Ukraine. A meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission is scheduled as well.

In New York, the United Nations said now is the time for "cool heads to prevail."

Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the Security Council that 15,000 Russian troops are already in Crimea under the pretense of protecting Russian citizens.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin blamed the West for ratcheting up tensions in Ukraine and backing protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych last month.

He said Russia wants to know why the deal between the opposition and Mr. Yanukovych to form a new coalition government was not implemented. He said Ukraine has to return to that deal and sideline those he calls radicals.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said Russian actions speak louder than words. She said a Russian force in Ukraine could push the situation beyond the breaking point and again called for international mediation in Crimea.

Ukraine has been describing what it says is an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in Crimea since Friday.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said he has put the country's armed forces on combat alert. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning Russia that military intervention would mean war.

VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott says unidentified soldiers and military vehicles have appeared in Crimea, well beyond their local base. She said at least a dozen were stationed outside parliament in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on Saturday.

Crimea is a Black Sea peninsula placed under Ukrainian control in 1954 by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It became part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Crimea has a tiny border with Russia on its far eastern point. Most of the people living in Crimea are ethnic Russians, but the region also is home to ethnic Muslim Tartars who generally show disdain toward Russia.

Russia has said its troop movements in Crimea, where it leases a naval base in Sevastopol, conform to agreements with Ukraine.

Elsewhere, pro-Russian demonstrators fought with supporters of the new Ukrainian government in Ukraine's eastern city of Kharkiv Saturday. Pro-Russian demonstrations also erupted in other eastern cities.

Ukraine's troubles began in November when ousted president Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties and economic aid from Russia.

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