Ukraine crisis deepens as Russia scrambles jets

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Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine’s acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn’t immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine’s acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn’t immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

A boy is helped by his mother to light a candle inside an improvised church at the Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine’s Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine’s acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn’t immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Anti-Yanukovych protesters riding on top of an army armored vehicle drive though a street in central Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine put its police on high alert after dozens of armed pro-Russia men stormed and seized local government buildings in Ukraine’s Crimea region early Thursday and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Pro-Russian demonstrators march with a huge Russian flag during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Ukraine’s acting interior minister says Interior Ministry troops and police have been put on high alert after dozens of men seized local government and legislature buildings in the Crimea region. The intruders raised a Russian flag over the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, but didn’t immediately voice any demands. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia scrambled fighter jets to patrol its border and reportedly gave shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president as gunmen stormed government buildings in the strategic Crimea region and raised a Russian flag over the regional parliament Thursday, deepening the crisis for the new Ukrainian government even as it was being formed.

The moves pose an immediate challenge to Ukraine’s new authorities as they seek to set up an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West.

Ukraine’s new prime minister said the country’s future lies in the European Union but with friendly relations with Russia. Moscow, meanwhile, has launched a major military exercise involving 150,000 troops and put fighter jets on patrol along the border.

Respected Russian news organization RBK reported that Viktor Yanukovych, who was driven out of Kiev by a three-month protest movement against his government, was staying in a Kremlin retreat just outside Moscow after first staying at a hotel.

“I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists,” the fugitive leader said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies on Thursday. He said he still considers himself president and sees the new Ukrainian authorities as illegitimate.

The same agencies then quoted an unnamed Russian official saying that Yanukovych’s request for protection “was satisfied on the territory of Russia.”

Yanukovych will reportedly hold a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said they had no information about Yanukovych’s reported arrival in Moscow.

Yanukovych’s decision to ditch closer ties to the European Union and turn to Moscow instead sparked weeks of protests in Kiev. He fled after riot police attacked protesters in Kiev’s central square, killing more than 80 people, and European and Russian officials intervened. He hasn’t been seen publicly since Saturday, when he said he remained the legitimately elected president — a position that has been backed by Russia.

In Kiev, lawmakers chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister. He will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.

Shortly before the lawmakers chose him as the leader of the new Cabinet, Yatsenyuk said Ukraine doesn’t want a fight with Russia, but insisted the country wouldn’t accept the secession of the southern Crimea region.

He said Crimea “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

The Black Sea peninsula, where a majority of residents are ethnic Russians and where Russia maintains a naval base, has become the latest flashpoint in Ukraine’s political crisis. A day after pro- and anti-Russian rallies in the regional capital of Simferopol, witnesses said gunmen wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms and carrying rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and other weapons seized local government buildings and raised the Russian flag over the regional parliament.

They didn’t immediately voice any demands and threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist’s questions. They wore black and orange ribbons, a

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