Ukraine ‘preparing troops withdrawal from Crimea’

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Ukraine is drawing up plans to withdraw its soldiers and their families from Crimea, Kiev’s security chief, Andriy Parubiy said they wanted to move them “quickly and efficiently” to mainland Ukraine.

Earlier, pro-Russian forces seized two naval bases – including Ukraine navy’s HQ – in Crimea. Kiev says its navy chief has been detained.

It comes a day after Crimean leaders signed a treaty with Moscow absorbing the peninsula into Russia.

A referendum in Crimea on Sunday, approving its split from Ukraine, came nearly a month after Kiev’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was replaced by Western-leaning interim authorities.
Mr Parubiy, in a news conference, set out more details on Kiev’s position in light of the events in Crimea.

“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,” he said.

He said the arrangements were now being set up to introduce visas for Russian nationals travelling to Ukraine.

And he said Kiev was seeking UN support to “proclaim Crimea a demilitarised zone”, which would involve the withdrawal of Russian troops and the “relocation of Ukrainian troops to continental Ukraine as well as facilitate evacuation of all the civilian population who are unwilling to remain on the occupied territory”.

Ukraine is also leaving the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) alliance, and is preparing for military exercises with the US and the UK, Mr Parubiy added.

Meanwhile, a deadline of 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT) set by Ukraine’s interim President Olexander Turchynov for the release of navy chief Serhiy Hayduk has passed.

He earlier said that unless Mr Hayduk and “all the other hostages – both military and civilian ones – were released, the authorities would carry out an adequate response… of a technical and technological nature”.

It is not clear exactly what he means, but it could involve the electricity or water that Ukraine supplies to Crimea, the BBC’s David Stern in Kiev suggests.
Kiev said Mr Hayduk was detained soon after Ukraine’s naval headquarters was stormed by some 200 pro-Russian activists, some armed, in Sevastopol – the port city which is also home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

They were filmed going through offices, removing Ukrainian insignia and replacing Ukraine’s flag with the Russian tricolour.

There were cheers from the crowd when Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander Aleksandr Vitko arrived and entered the building.

Ukraine’s navy base in Novo-Ozyorne in west Crimea was also infiltrated after a tractor was used to ram the front gates. Some 50 Ukrainian servicemen were seen filing out of the base.

A pro-Russian forces member in Sevastopol, Viktor Melnikov, said “not a drop of blood has been spilled” and there was no violence.
But one of the Ukrainian servicemen who left the Sevastopol base, Captain Olexander Balanyuk, said: “There were many promises from the Russian side and our side that the base will not be stormed, that all issues will be resolved through political means, but as you see now – there was a takeover.”

Some said they would never surrender. One serviceman talked to the BBC by telephone from inside the Sevastopol HQ, saying he was one of around 100 Ukrainians who had barricaded themselves in using furniture to block the doors.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema reportedly tried to enter Crimea to defuse tensions but were prevented from doing so.
‘Clear warning’

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia’s constitutional court approved the treaty absorbing Crimea into the Russian Federation. The treaty now only needs ratifying by parliament which correspondents say it is certain to do.
In an emotionally charged speech on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said Crimea had “always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia”.

Meanwhile, shocking footage has emerged of MPs from Ukraine’s far-right Svoboda party roughing up Oleksandr Panteleymonov, the acting chief executive of the state broadcaster, over his decision to broadcast the treaty ceremony in the Kremlin.

The crisis in Crimea is expected to dominate a meeting of European Union leaders who meet in Brussels on Thursday.

Both the EU and the US have already imposed sanctions on several officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow’s actions in Crimea.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the EU must send “a very clear warning” to Russia. He also said the G8 group should discuss whether to expel Russia “if further steps are taken”.

Moscow said any expansion of sanctions was “unacceptable and will not remain without consequences”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is heading to the region. He will meet Mr Putin in Moscow on Thursday and Ukraine’s interim leaders in Kiev on Friday.

Pro-Russian forces effectively took over Crimea – with its predominantly ethnic Russian population – after Mr Yanukovych fled Ukraine on 22 February following protests in which more than 80 people were killed.

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