KYIV, UKRAINE - Ukraine’s interim government, while vowing it will never recognize Russian control over the Crimea, now acknowledges its outmanned and outgunned forces have been ordered to pull back from the peninsula.
This comes as Ukraine expresses alarm that Russia - which annexed Crimea last Friday - is poised to enter the Ukrainian mainland.
While there are hopes that an emergency Group of Seven meeting in The Hague can use diplomacy to defuse the crisis, Ukrainian officials say their country’s northern, southern and eastern borders are increasingly under threat but their military is ready to defend the homeland.
The Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy, told reporters in Kyiv there are about 100,000 members of Russia’s military poised along Ukraine borders equipped and ready to intrude. He said that despite assurances from Russian officials that they are engaged in routine drills, in reality Russian forces are on full alert.
Parubiy also said the interim government has given Russia an ultimatum to free Ukrainian generals and admirals who are being held in Crimea after Russian forces seized nearly 200 Ukrainian bases. No details are being revealed, however, about conditions or deadlines for the ultimatum.
Hour earlier Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, confirmed that all of the country’s military units and their families had been instructed to leave Crimea because they “are under real threat.”
Some people - perhaps the majority of personnel in some key units, according to sources here - are staying behind to join the Russian military.
Most prominent among them is Denis Berezovsky, the former commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Navy who has been named a deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. He now faces treason charges in Ukraine where the military establishment is branding him a traitor.
Retired captain Volodmyr Voloshyn, president of the Union of Ukraine Marines and a former Ukrainian naval chief of staff, said he cannot understand what compelled his colleague to make such a decision.
Voloshyn said that after the breakup of the Soviet Union, a lot of Ukrainian officers were accused of betrayal for taking an oath to defend Ukraine.
The loss of Crimea, including the Ukrainian military bases, the navy’s flagship and only submarine are a humiliating loss for Ukraine. Its forces demonstrated little, if any resistance, in the face of overwhelming odds against them.
Former Ukrainian foreign minister Borys Tarasyuk said Washington and London, though, have to take a share of the blame for the loss of Crimea.
“The United States and the United Kingdom, two countries, I dare to mention them by name, they did not implement their commitments according to the Budapest Memorandum on national security guarantees to Ukraine in connection with Ukraine joining the non-proliferation nuclear treaty as a non-nuclear state,” he said.
The 1994 political agreement was signed by the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Kingdom.