Ukraine Concedes Defeat: Prepares to Pull Troops From Crimea

Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014 06:58 PM

By Joe Schaeffer

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Conceding defeat in the face of Russia’s takeover of its military bases in Crimea, the acting Ukrainian government announced plans Wednesday to withdraw its troops from the peninsula.

"We are developing a plan that would enable us not only to withdraw servicemen, but also members of their families in Crimea, so that they could be quickly and efficiently moved to mainland Ukraine," Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council chief Andriy Parubiy told a televised press conference, Agence-France Presse reports.

Ukraine also proposed that Crimea be declared a demilitarized zone by the United Nations and a plan developed for the removal of Russian forces too. Moscow is almost certain to block that bid as its Black Sea Fleet is based on the peninsula.

"The Ukrainian government will immediately appeal to the United Nations to recognize Crimea as a demilitarized zone and take necessary measures for Russian forces to leave Crimea and prepare conditions for re-deployment of Ukrainian forces," Parubiy said.

The announcement came as tensions continued to mount in Crimea. A Ukrainian naval officer told Reuters that Russian forces took control of another Ukrainian naval base late on Wednesday.

Maj. Eduard Kusnarenko said there was no violence as the naval transportation facility in Bakhchisaray, 19 miles southwest of the regional capital Simferopol, was seized.

"Russian troops came and asked us to leave the base, which we did," he told Reuters outside the base. "We will try again tomorrow to return to our post."

The latest seizure came a day after a confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militia left two dead.

A Ukrainian serviceman and a member of a pro-Russian defense force were killed on Tuesday at a Ukrainian base that came under attack in Simferopol, the first deaths on the peninsula from a military clash since the region came under Russian control three weeks ago.

Parubiy’s announcement of a Ukrainian withdrawal seemingly contradicts a vow made by Ukraine Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh earlier on Wednesday.

Asked in Kiev if Ukrainian forces would leave Crimea, Tenyukh answered: "No. We will stay," Reuters reports.

The defense minister and Ukraine’s deputy prime minister had planned to travel to Crimea on Wednesday but were thwarted by the pro-Russia Crimean leadership.

"They are not welcome in Crimea," Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said, according to the Interfax news agency. "They will not be allowed to enter Crimea. They will be sent back."

Interfax later reported the officials had been denied entry.

A Ukrainian defense analyst told the Los Angeles Times that Russia and Ukraine would most likely come to an arrangement to allow the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the peninsula.

"I think at some point soon Russia may agree to make a corridor for Ukrainian troops in Crimea to leave [with] their units with unit flags and weapons they can carry with them as a compromise decision," said Dmitry Tymchuk, a military blogger for the Kiev Post.

Crimea voted overwhelmingly for union with Russia on Sunday in a referendum which the West has called illegal and President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday annexing the Black Sea peninsula, home to nearly 2 million people.

Amid the unstable situation, the Pentagon announced Wednesday that it will participate as planned in a multinational military exercise this summer in Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.

The ground maneuvers, dubbed "Rapid Trident," have been held annually for several years. Forces from Britain and other NATO countries have participated in the past. Ukraine has a partner relationship with NATO but is not a member.

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