Ukraine's interim government has ordered its troops to withdraw from Crimea, after Russian forces took control of three military installations over the past three days.
Kyiv said Monday it is pulling out its troops in response to the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the defense ministry has been instructed to redeploy Ukrainian forces from the Black Sea peninsula. He said the move is a response to threats by Russian forces on the lives of Ukrainian service members and their families.
As Ukraine announced its troop evacuation Monday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Russia's military headquarters in Sevastopol, where he reviewed troops and met with the former head of Ukraine's navy, Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who has switched allegiances and become a deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet. Ukrainian authorities have charged him with treason.
It is unclear how many other Ukrainian service members may have joined the Russian forces rather than pull out of the region.
Earlier Monday, Russian forces seized a naval base near the eastern Crimean port of Feodosia, using stun grenades and automatic weapons. Ukraine's defense ministry said two service members were wounded and between 60 and 80 were detained.
Ukraine's new pro-Western government in Kyiv has been criticized for its indecision on Ukrainian troops in Crimea, who have been besieged by Russian forces for weeks.
Ukraine's secretary for national security, Andriy Parubiy, tells VOA he believes there are about 100,000 members of Russia's military poised along Ukrainian borders. He says despite assurances from Russian officials that the troops are conducting routine drills, in reality those forces are on full alert.
Parubiy also says Ukraine's interim government has given Russia an ultimatum to free Ukrainian officers who are being held in Crimea, after Russian forces seized nearly 200 military installations.
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 is illegal.