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Russian Defense Chief Tours Crimean Base as Ukrainian Forces Withdraw

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu toured Russian military headquarters in Crimea Monday, as Russian forces seized Ukraine's last military base on the peninsula and Ukrainian forces withdrew.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, ordered the withdrawal in the face of a much larger Russian military presence on the peninsula. He said the move is a response to threats by Russian forces on the lives of Ukrainian service members and their families.

Late Monday, Russia's Ria Novosti news agency quoted Crimea's deputy prime minister as saying all military units in the peninsula are now under the control of the Russian military.

Defense Minister Shoigu's visit to Sevastopol included a meeting with turncoat Ukrainian Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who quit the Ukrainian navy earlier this month and swore allegiance to Moscow. Berezovsky, who faces treason charges in Ukraine, now serves as deputy commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet.

It is unclear how many other Ukrainian service members have switched allegiances since Russian forces invaded the peninsula early this month.

Ukraine's secretary for national security, Andriy Parubiy, tells VOA that about 100,000 Russian troops and armor are poised along Ukrainian borders and remain on full alert.

That troop presence on Ukraine's eastern and southern borders has triggered alarm in Kyiv. It also has spawned warnings from NATO that Moscow may be seeking to expand its territorial reach into another pro-Russian territory on Ukraine's southwestern border -- Transdniester.

For its part, Moscow has insisted the border troops are conducting maneuvers, and says there are no plans to cross into Ukraine.

Ukraine has remained highly unstable since November, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych backed off from signing a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. The move led to weeks of anti-government protests in Kyiv that forced Mr. Yanukovych to flee the country last month.

Crimeans voted last week in a highly controversial ballot to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, a move quickly embraced by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States and the European Union say the vote violates Ukraine's constitution and is illegal.

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