Crimea's rebel leader urged Russians across Ukraine today to rise up against Kiev's rule and welcome Kremlin forces whose unrelenting march against his flashpoint peninsula has defied Western outrage.
The call came amid growing anxiety among Kiev's Western-backed rulers that Russian President Vladimir Putin - flushed with expansionist fervour - will imminently order an all-out attack on his ex-Soviet neighbour after only being hit by limited EU and US sanctions for taking the Black Sea cape.
"The aim of Putin is not Crimea but all of Ukraine," Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy told a mass unity rally in Kiev.
"His troops massed at the border are ready to attack at any moment," he said a day after Russian forces used armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades to capture Ukraine's main Crimean airbase.
The takeover came as the chill in East-West ties grew stiffer with a charge by Germany -- a nation whose friendship Putin had nurtured -- of a Kremlin attempt to "splinter" Europe along Cold War-era lines.
Europe's most explosive security crisis in decades will now dominate a nuclear security summit opening in the Hague tomorrow that will include what may prove the most difficult meeting to date between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The encounter comes with Russia facing the loss of its coveted seat among the G8 group of leading nations and Putin's inner circle reeling from sanctions Washington unleashed for their use of force in Crimea in response to last month's fall of Ukraine's pro-Kremlin regime.
One of the biggest tests facing the besieged Western-backed leaders in Kiev now comes from restless Russians who have been stirring up violent protests and demanding their own secession referendums in the southeastern swaths of Ukraine.
The region's mistrust of the new team's European values lies from cultural and trade ties with Russia that in many cases are centuries old -- a fact seized upon today by Crimea's self-declared prime minister.
Sergei Aksyonov said in an impassioned address he posted on Facebook and read out on local TV that Crimea began facing a "sad fate" the moment three months of deadly protests involving a mix of nationalist and pro-Western forces toppled the pro-Kremlin regime in Kiev.
“But we resisted and won! Our motherland -- Russia – extended her hand of help," said Aksyonov. "So today, I appeal to you with a call to fight."
"I call on