Ukraine’s acting president has announced that the ex-Soviet nation’s troops have been given orders to withdraw from Crimea following the peninsula’s seizure and annexation by Russia.
“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,” acting president Oleksandr Turchynov told a meeting of top MPs on Monday.
“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.”
Turchynov’s announcement came less than a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin won authorisation to use force against his western neighbour following the February 22 ouster in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime by leaders who are seeking closer relations with Europe.
Ukraine’s heavily outnumbered forces had been steadily losing ground on the Black Sea peninsula and saw their main airbase outside the regional capital Simferopol stormed by Russian troops on Saturday.
The assault by Russian forces 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.
“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 warned on Sunday that they feared an attack by Kremlin forces on the heavily Russified regions of southeastern Ukraine was now imminent.