Ukraine crisis: Kiev orders mass withdrawal of troops from Crimea in face of Russian aggression

The seizure comes ahead of G7 discussions on the crisis at The Hague

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The Independent Online

Ukraine's fledgling government has ended days of wavering in the face of increased Russian aggression and ordered its troops to withdraw from Crimea.

As Moscow seeks to consolidate its control over the peninsula it officially annexed on Friday, acting President Oleksandr Turchnynov said the defence ministry was instructed to redeploy all servicemen to Ukraine's mainland today.

Russian forces have been systematically seizing Ukrainian ships and military installations in Crimea, including a naval base near the eastern port of Feodosia this morning, where two wounded servicemen were taken captive on Monday and as many as 80 were detained on-site, Ukrainian officials said. The base was seen as one of the last symbols of resistance left.

Using weapons including stun grenades, soldiers charged into the compound, removed Ukrainian flags and took Ukrainian officers away for questioning, according to Ukrainian officials.

The incident completes a partial capture of the base, used by Ukraine’s top military unit the 1st Separate Marine Battalion, earlier this month, and mirrors a Russian takeover of the Belbek airbase in Crimea two days ago.

Ukrainian army officer, First Lieutenant Anatoly Mozgovoy, told reporters from inside the compound that Russians troops had fired shots at unarmed Ukrainian soldiers. Asked if the base had been taken over, he said: “Yes”.

“The invading troops were using stun grenades and also firing automatic weapons. The interior of the compound is full of Russian troops,” said Vladislav Seleznyov, a Defence spokesman in Crimea. 

Russia's seizure of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula of two million people with a narrow ethnic Russian majority, has been largely bloodless.

But Kiev and Western powers have called the referendum held on 21 March illegitimate due to the presence of Russian troops in the territory and the lack of a campaign period.

Leaders of the G7 nations are to hold talks on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague on Monday to consider their response to Russia annexing Crimea.

In what has become the worst diplomatic crisis between the East and West since the Cold War, the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions targeting some of his closest political and business allies, but it was unclear whether they went far enough to influence Moscow.

So far, Western governments have struggled to find a balance between putting pressure on Putin, protecting their own economies, and avoiding triggering a vicious cycle of sanctions and reprisals.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that it could be expelled from the G8 bloc of nations.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken suggested ahead of the talks that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be plotting to take control of a Russian-speaking section of Moldova.

“It's deeply concerning to see the Russian troop buildup on the border,” Mr Blinken told US TV network CNN.

“It creates the potential for incidents, for instability.

"It's likely that what they're trying to do is intimidate the Ukrainians... It's possible that they're preparing to move in."

However, Moscow's ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told the BBC Moscow did not have any "expansionist views" and that "nobody should fear Russia".

Additional reporting by Reuters