US President Barack Obama yesterday vowed Western unity in punishing Moscow, as Ukraine ordered its outnumbered troops to withdraw from Crimea after the peninsula's seizure and annexation by Russia.
The dramatic but seemingly inevitable announcement came after the fall of another Ukrainian base in Crimea and as world leaders gathered in The Hague for a summit dominated by concerns over the most explosive East-West stand-off since the cold war.
"Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, we're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far," Obama said after landing in the Netherlands.
Later, the White House added it was "very concerned by the potential for escalation" after Russia massed its troops on the border with Ukraine, a close aide to Obama said.
"We are watching very closely, we believe that Russia stands an enormous amount to lose" from any escalation, Deputy National Security advisor Ben Rhodes said in The Hague, echoing a similar warning a day earlier by a top commander in Nato.
Watch: Ukrainians urge unity after Russia storms Crimea base
The Kremlin has made clear it intends to "protect" compatriots that it says have been victimised by violent nationalists since last month's rise to power of a pro-European team. But Moscow has denied its forces plan to push into eastern Ukraine despite President Vladimir Putin's open ambition to resurrect vestiges of the Soviet empire.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, sombrely told top lawmakers that both servicemen and their families in Crimea would be relocated to the mainland.
"The national security and defence council has reached a decision, under instructions from the defence ministry, to conduct a redeployment of military units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea," Turchynov said. "The cabinet … has instructions to resettle the families of soldiers as well as everyone else who today is forced to leave their homes under the pressure and aggression of the Russian army's occupying forces."
Crimea's pro-Kremlin deputy premier, Rustam Temirgaliyev, told Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency that "all Ukrainian soldiers have either switched to the Russian side or are leaving the territory of the Crimea".
The assault by Russian troops and pro-Kremlin militias continued yesterday with the fall of a Ukrainian naval base in the east Crimean port of Feodosia.
Turchynov praised his country's soldiers despite heavy criticism by some Crimean commanders of confusion reigning among the army and naval brass.
The two-day meeting in The Hague will feature both a meeting of the Nuclear Security Summit and a meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialised nations that Obama hurriedly convened last week. The G7 leaders are expected to discuss stripping Russia of its seat in the larger Group of Eight.