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Russia builds up armor near Crimea, Ukraine border guards say

People hold flags during a pro-Russian rally outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 27, 2014. Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula on Thursday and raised the Russian flag in a challenge to the country's new rulers. 
REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
People hold flags during a pro-Russian rally outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol February 27, 2014. Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula on Thursday and raised the Russian flag in a challenge to the country's new rulers. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

KIEV (Reuters) - Russia has started a build-up of armored vehicles on the Russian side of a narrow stretch of water between Russia and the Ukrainian region of Crimea, Ukrainian border guards said on Monday.

A border guard spokesman also said Russian ships had been moving in and around the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked mobile telephone services in some parts of Crimea.

He said the build-up of Russian armor was near a ferry port on the Russian side of what is known as the Kerch Strait, which separates the eastern edge of the Crimea peninsula and the western edge of the Taman Peninsula.

The strait is 4.5 km (2.8 miles) wide at its narrowest point and up to 18 meters (59 feet) deep.

"There are armored vehicles on the other side of the strait. We can't predict whether or not they will put any vehicles on the ferry," the spokesman said by telephone.

The border guard spokesman did not say how many armored vehicles had gathered in Russian territory, opposite the city of Kerch on the Ukrainian side of the strait.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian Defence Ministry.

The Kerch Strait also connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Russian forces have taken control of Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, and Ukraine has ordered a military mobilization as well as putting its forces on combat alert.

Russia's upper house of parliament has authorized President Vladimir Putin to deploy troops in Ukraine to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine who are said by Moscow to be under threat.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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