Ukrainian government refuses to remove troops from Crimea, prepares for war

Monday, March 17, 2014
By Paul Martin
March 17, 2014

In the wake of a March 16 referendum in which Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation, Ukrainian leaders refused to cede any part of the peninsula, calling on their troops to prepare for war.

“Crimea was, is, and will be our territory,” said Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh in a statement delivered at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center on March 17.

Former heavyweight boxing champion and leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform Vitali Klitschko announced that Ukrainian troops would remain at their bases, even after March 21, the end of a peace treaty signed by the interior ministries of Ukraine and Russia.

In accordance with the March 16 peace treaty, the Russian Interior Ministry promised to allow Ukrainian soldiers to pass freely into and out of their bases, which Russian troops had surrounded for more than two weeks. Tenyukh said that the Russian military had thus far respected the terms of the treaty.

Although tensions have de-escalated around military bases in Crimea since the signing of the treaty, neither side is prepared to back down. The Russian government expects that Ukrainian troops will surrender their military bases before the conclusion of the treaty. The Ukrainian government has said that it will not withdraw forces from Crimea, using the peace as an opportunity to replenish supplies for Ukrainian troops stationed on Crimean bases.

When asked whether Ukrainian troops would fight to defend Crimea, Tenyukh replied tersely, “The armed forces will execute their tasks, ” later adding, “Ukrainian forces will stay [in Crimea] until all their tasks have been completed.”

Earlier on March 17, the Ukrainian parliament voted to allot 6.7 billion hryvnia (more than $600 million) to bolster the country’s defenses over the next three months, and to partially mobilize the armed forces.

Tenyukh said that the mobilization was intended to bring the military to “full readiness.” The Verkhovna Rada called for 40,000 troops to be mobilized, calling on reservists to prepare for active duty.

As the Ukrainian economy teeters on the verge of default, the country’s top leaders have been forced to devote resources to bolstering Ukraine’s military, which many believe former President Victor Yanukovich intentionally undermined over the course of his three and a half year reign.

Klitschko said Ukrainian parliamentarians were prepared to send 25 percent of their salaries to “support patriots in Crimea.”

Pavlo Petrenko, Ukraine’s Justice Minister, said that the “the most important issue is to restore the military might of Ukraine.”

“Our army should be ready for combat,” said Petrenko.

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