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Outnumbered: Ukrainian troops withdraw from Crimea

Assaults on Ukrainian military bases in the region continued today.

Pro-Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms with an APC, pictured yesterday near Ukrainian marines base in the city of Feodosia, Crimea.
Pro-Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms with an APC, pictured yesterday near Ukrainian marines base in the city of Feodosia, Crimea.
Image: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

UKRAINE HAS ORDERED its outnumbered troops to withdraw from Crimea after Russia’s lightning annexation of the peninsula as world leaders met for emergency talks on the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

The dramatic announcement came after Ukraine lost yet another base in Crimea and a security summit at The Hague, set to be dominated by concerns over the Ukraine crisis.

“Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, we’re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” US President Barack Obama told reporters shortly after landing in the Netherlands.

Ex-Soviet

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 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.

Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov sombrely told top lawmakers that both servicemen and their families would now be relocated to the mainland.

‘Redeployment’

“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.”

image

Members of the Crimean self defense forces guarding the Crimea parliament building during Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit in Simferopol. (AP Photo/Max Vetrov)

Turchynov’s announcement came less than a month after Putin won authorisation to use force in response to the February 22 ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych regime by more nationalist leaders who are seeking a closer alliance with Europe.

Ukraine’s increasingly demoralised forces had been steadily losing ground on the Black Sea peninsula and saw their main airbase outside the regional capital Simferopol stormed on Saturday.

The assault by Russian troops and pro-Kremlin militias continued on Monday with the fall of a Ukrainian naval base in the east Crimean port of Feodosia.

Turchynov praised his country’s soldiers despite heavy criticism by some Crimean commanders of confusion and indecision reigning among the army and naval brass in Kiev over the past month.

“Enormous losses”

“Despite the enormous losses, the Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea did their duty,” said Turchynov.

“Most importantly, they gave the Ukrainian armed forces the opportunity to prepare their defences, to put the military on full combat alert, and to launch a partial mobilisation.”

Several top officials had warned on Sunday that they feared an attack by Kremlin forces on the heavily Russified regions of southeastern Ukraine was now imminent.

The two-day gathering in The Hague will feature both the Nuclear Security Summit and a meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialised nations that Obama hurriedly convened last week.

The G7 is expected to discuss stripping Russia of its coveted seat in the larger Group of Eight (G8) grouping that Moscow gained in 1998 as a reward for pursuing a democratic post-Soviet course.

Romanian President Traian Basescu said he would raise “the need to reposition NATO’s military resources” across eastern Europe following the Kremlin’s Crimean swoop.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Russia seizes another Crimean military base >

Fears: “The aim of Putin is not Crimea but all of Ukraine” >

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