Kiev : Ukraine has ordered its outnumbered troops to withdraw from Crimea following the peninsula’s lightning seizure and annexation by Russia in response to the fall in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime.
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 security summit dominated by concerns over the most explosive East-West standoff since the Cold War.
“Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, we are united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” US President Barack Obama said in the Netherlands.
A top commander in NATO had warned on Sunday that the Western military alliance was carefully watching massive Russian troop formations on the eastern border of Ukraine that could theoretically make a push across the vast ex-Soviet country at any point.
Moscow has denied any such plans despite President Vladimir Putin’s open ambition to resurrect vestiges of the Soviet empire and stamp his authority over eastern European nations that sought protection from the West following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
But the Kremlin has made clear that it intends to ‘protect’ compatriots in the Russifies southeastern swaths of Ukraine that it says have been victimised by violent nationalists since last month’s rise to power of a pro-European team.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Russian troops seized most of Ukraine’s bases in the peninsula, including a naval base at Feodosia. Russia annexed Crimea last week after a controversial referendum that Ukraine and the West say was illegal.
Earlier, Russian troops stormed and seized the Ukrainian naval base in Feodosia, a port in Crimea, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman said. Witnesses said several Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters were involved in the raid. Between 60 and 80 Ukrainian troops were captured and taken from the base, said Vladislav Seleznev, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman in Crimea.
Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov sombrely told top lawmakers that both servicemen and their families would now 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 in nationally televised remarks.
“The cabinet of ministers 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.”