KIEV, UKRAINE (MARCH 11, 2014) (REUTERS) - Ukraine's interim leaders established a new National Guard on Tuesday (March 11) and appealed to the United States and Britain for assistance against what they called Russian aggression in Crimea under a post-Cold War treaty.
There was no let-up in the war of words, with the pro-Russian regional parliament in Crimea approving a declaration of independence that will take effect if people on the Black Sea peninsula vote to unite with Russia in a referendum on Sunday.
"(We ask) to create the National Guard as the basis of the internal forces of Ukraine. Its aim is to protect the country and citizens from any criminals and external and internal aggression. (We ask) to declare partial mobilisation of the National Guard of Ukraine and the Armed Forces of Ukraine," said acting President Oleksander Turchinov.
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 Europesince 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 defendUkraine's sovereignty.
"My appeal to our Western partners was the following. If you don't secure those guarantees that were signed in the Budapest Memorandum, then please explain how you will convince Iran orNorth Korea to dispose of their status as nuclear states if the necessary guarantees are not upheld by the world," said Yatseniuk.
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 U.N. help for Ukraine if it faces attack by nuclear weapons.
Parliament passed a resolution calling on the United States and Britain, co-signatories with Russiaof that treaty to "fulfil their obligations ... and take all possible diplomatic, political, economic and military measures urgently to end the aggression and preserve the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine".
NATO powers - and the authorities in Kiev - have made clear they want to avoid a military escalation with Moscow, which has denied its troops are behind the take-over of Crimea 10 days ago by separatist forces - a denial ridiculed by other governments.
Yatseniuk, who said he supported efforts to set up a "contact group" of major powers to resolve the crisis, accused Russia of seeking to undermine the world security system.
"Ukraine is ready for transparent negotiations with the Russian Federation and restoration of a new type of relation between Ukraine and Russia where Russia recognizes the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine and where Russia recognizes the Ukrainian desire for European integration," he told parliament.
Acting president Oleksander Turchinov said the National Security and Defence council had decided to raise a new National Guard among veterans. He accused Yanukovich of leaving the military in such a poor state that it had to be built "effectively from scratch".
The acting defence minister said Ukraine had not been prepared for military confrontation withRussia. Having mobilised its forces, he said the country had only 6,000 combat-ready infantry out of a nominal infantry force of 41,000 -compared to over 200,000 Russian troops on its eastern borders.
Turchinov warned against provoking Russian action, saying that would play into Moscow's hands. The National Guard, based on existing Interior Ministry forces, would "defend citizens from criminals and from internal or external aggression".
A partial mobilisation would begin of volunteers drawn from those with previous military experience, he said.
Yatseniuk said the government was doing all it could to finance pay and equipment for the armed forces, but that Kiev needed help from Western guarantors of its security.
Western powers have been careful to note that Ukraine, not being a member of NATO, has no automatic claim on the alliance to defend it. But Yatseniuk said the principles of its 1994 nuclear disarmament pact entitled it to expect assistance.