WSJ: Russians Ask Ukrainian Soldiers to Defect

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 10:54 PM

By Jason Devaney

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As the situation in Crimea grows more tense, reports say Russian military forces are demanding that Ukrainian soldiers switch sides and wear Russian uniforms.

The Wall Street Journal reports that one colonel in the Ukrainian military was approached by a Russian of the same rank with an offer Monday morning.

"He said we must hand over all the weaponry on the base,” Col. Viktor Pukarenko said. "He was reasonably polite.”

The Russian colonel then offered work to every Ukrainian on the base, promising them jobs in the Russian military. If they turned down the offer, the colonel said, the Ukrainians would have to leave Crimea within 24 hours.

After Pukarenko relayed an answer of no, a deadline came and went without anything happening.

Reports say the same thing is occurring in other parts of Crimea, where thousands of Russian troops have positioned themselves ahead of a looming deadline. Russia warned that if Ukrainian troops did not withdraw from their posts at military bases by 10 p.m. EST Monday, there would be “a military storm.”

The threat of military action has not changed the minds of Ukrainian soldiers, however. The Journal story says soldiers have responded to offers of switching sides by singing Ukraine’s national anthem.

Russia’s military said it was not threatening Ukrainian soldiers. One official from the Black Sea Fleet, which has positioned Russian soldiers across Crimea, called reports that it would storm Ukrainian military bases “complete nonsense,” Russia’s Interfax news agency said.

Still, the threat of an incident's occurring between the two nations’ militaries seemed more and more likely. Several reports said Russians had overtaken border guards, and the power went down at the base where Pukarenko was stationed.

Ukrainian soldiers began tearing pieces of wood from buildings on the base to start bonfires that would serve two purposes: keep the soldiers warm and allow them to see whether the Russians launched an attack.

"If they attack us, it will be early in the morning in the dark," Col. Yuli Mamchur, the base commander, told the Journal. "It's always under the cover of dark that people do the worst things.”

Mamchur invited reporters onto the base while families of Ukrainian soldiers apparently stood outside the gates.

The Journal reports that Russian troops in Crimea have removed markings on their uniforms that identify them as Russian and will not disclose who they are when asked.

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