Simferopol, Ukraine (CNN) Russia’s upper house of Parliament voted unanimously Saturday to approve sending Russian military forces into Ukraine, amid mounting tensions in the country’s Crimea region and in defiance of warnings from Western powers.
The vote followed a request from President Vladimir Putin for approval to send troops into Crimea to normalize the political situation there.
Putin cited the “extraordinary situation in Ukraine” in making his request, adding that the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel based in the southern Crimea region had been threatened.
Ukraine’s new government condemned the move.
“We perceive Russia’s actions as direct aggression towards the sovereignty of Ukraine,” said acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on the Twitter account of his Fatherland party.
The fledgling government in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, is seeking to prevent tensions in Crimea, which has a majority-Russian population, from escalating into a full-blown bid for separation.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said Saturday in a posting on his party’s website that he planned to ask Turchynov to call for Parliament to meet in emergency session to vote to invalidate the Black Sea Fleet Naval Base agreement.
Amid the uncertainty, about 300 gunmen wearing Russian special forces uniforms attempted to take over the Sevastopol unit of the Ukrainian Coast Guard, a senior official with the Ukrainian Border Service said Saturday.
The gunmen were positioned outside the Ukrainian Coast Guard building, with local residents standing between the two groups, said Col. Sergii Astakhov, assistant to the chief of the Ukrainian Border Service.
The residents were reportedly trying to negotiate and asking the gunmen not to attack, Astakhov said.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Coast Guard had moved its ships to a position away from the coast where they were approached by three motorboats and a cruiser from the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Astakhov said.
The Russian upper house vote came on the day that the newly installed, pro-Russian leader of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, asked Putin for help in maintaining peace on the Black Sea peninsula — where Russia’s fleet is based at Sevastopol.
Security forces “are unable to efficiently control the situation in the republic,” he said in comments broadcast on Russian state channel Russia 24. Aksyonov was installed as the region’s premier after armed men took over the Crimean Parliament building on Thursday.
Aksyonov said Saturday that a referendum on greater Crimean autonomy, originally set for May 25, would be moved to March 30.
Ukrainian government officials suspect Moscow of fomenting separatist tensions in the autonomous region — and they accused Russia of having already sent troops into its territory.