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Ukraine to Hold Military Exercises with European, NATO Allies

  • Daniel Schearf

Russian servicemen stand in front of a military truck on a freight carriage near the Crimean city of Simferopol April 1, 2014. NATO says it will explore all options to boost the alliance's defenses after seeing no signs of a Russian troop withdrawal.
Ukraine will host joint military exercises with European and NATO countries while NATO has decided to suspend "all practical civilian and military cooperation" with Russia because of Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

NATO and Ukraine also agreed to intensify cooperation and promote defense reforms, according to a NATO statement released Tuesday in Brussels, where the NATO foreign ministers are meeting to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

Joint military exercises

In Ukraine, lawmakers voted unanimously Tuesday ‒ 235 to 0 ‒ to hold the exercies despite ongoing military tensions with Russia.

The overwhelming support follows Russia's March annexation of Crimea and reports of its heavy military build-up along Ukraine's border.

Lt. Gen. General Mihaylo Koval, Ukraine's Acting Minister of Defense, said permission was granted for units of foreign countries to take part in eight training exercises, with half of the military personnel for the drills being Ukrainian while the other half is foreign.

"The main theme of the training is preparation for international peace keeping operations," Koval said. "They will also work on humanitarian security and search and rescue operations on land and water as well as national defense."

The joint exercises are expected to take place in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa and could bring EU and NATO forces close to Russia's military in Crimea.

Moscow views the NATO alliance as an attempt to surround and isolate Russia. NATO's 28 member-states include former allies of the Soviet Union who agree to collective defense if one of them is attacked.

Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) but has hosted similar drills in the past. Since Russia's aggressive moves on the Black Sea peninsula, Kyiv is considering upgrading its relations with the alliance but has no plans to join it.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussensaid Russian forces are still massed along Ukraine's border. Reports Monday indicated Moscow had ordered the start of a gradual withdrawal of tens of thousands of soldiers.

But Moscow confirmed only one battalion, a few hundred, was pulled back and claims only a small presence of troops are there doing normal drills.

Disarming nationalists, right wing groups

Ukrainian lawmakers also voted Tuesday for a bill to disarm all groups with unlicensed weapons.

"The Ukrainian people demand order," Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, told parliament. "Those who have weapons can only belong to the armed forces of Ukraine, the national guard and the security service of Ukraine or other military groups."

The declaration followed a shooting incident Monday night in central Kyiv by a member of the Ukrainian nationalist Right Sector group.

The man opened fire after a dispute in a restaurant, wounding three people, one of whom remains in serious condition.
Members of the Ukrainian far-right radical group Right Sector leave their headquarters in Dnipro Hotel as police special forces stand guard, Kyiv, April 1, 2014.
Members of the Ukrainian far-right radical group Right Sector leave their headquarters in Dnipro Hotel as police special forces stand guard, Kyiv, April 1, 2014.
The Right Sector and other ultra-nationalists, were on the front lines of anti-government protests that turned violent in February clashes with riot police.

The fighting ended in over 100 deaths, including from snipers, and led Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia.

Moscow has cited nationalist groups like the Right Sector in claiming nazis and fascists control Kyiv's streets and the government. The Kremin used an alleged threat against ethnic Russians as justification for seizing Crimea.

The Right Sector turned the man over to police who surrounded their nearby hotel headquarters and forced them to move Tuesday to a National Guard unit outside the city.

Ukraine's Interior Minister says they found weapons inside the hotel, including homemade explosives, which were confiscated.

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