UK & World News

  • 20 March 2014, 4:30

Ukraine Moves to Pull Troops Out Of Crimea

Plans to withdraw Ukrainian troops from the Crimea are being drawn up by the Kiev government after pro-Russian forces tightened their grip on the region.

The move to pull-out the heavily outnumbered service personnel stranded on the peninsula followed the seizing of military bases, including the Ukrainian navy's headquarters in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

In the seemingly tense but peaceful takeover by militia backed by masked gunmen, the commander of the Ukrainian navy, Admiral Sergei Haiduk, was detained by troops thought to be Russian special forces.

Authorities in Kiev have demanded Crimea's pro-Moscow leaders release him or face "an adequate response".

In other developments, Ukraine is to introduce visas for Russians visiting the country, and announced it is to hold joint military exercises with the US and UK.

It is also quitting a Russian-dominated alliance of former Soviet nations.

At the same time, President Barack Obama has ruled out US military involvement in Ukraine, and instead stressed the diplomatic pressure that could be brought to bear.

He told American TV: "We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine.

"There is a better path, but I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge that for us to engage Russia militarily would not be appropriate and would not be good for Ukraine either."

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has warned it will respond "in kind" to US sanctions, and in a new worrying escalation to the tense stand-off, Moscow said it may change its stance in the Iranian nuclear talks.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov is reported as saying Russia did not want to use the nuclear negotiations to "raise stakes", but may have to do so in response to the actions by the US and European Union.

The statement is the most serious threat of retaliation by Moscow after the West announced sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

Tensions in the region remain high after troops stormed an army base in the Crimean capital Simferopol on Tuesday, killing a Ukrainian soldier.

Crimea has voted in a referendum to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.

President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to annex the peninsula to Russia, and other states in the region have been looking warily at the escalating crisis.

Issuing a warning to Moscow, US Vice President Joe Biden said, during a trip to Lithuania, that the US will respond to any aggression against its Nato allies.

"Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behaviour," Mr Biden said, after meeting the leaders of Lithuania and Latvia.

The Baltic states, unlike Ukraine, are Nato members.

Nato's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen†said Russia's intervention in Ukraine posed the most serious threat to Europe's security since the end of the Cold War, and warned Moscow it faced international isolation.

And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is heading to Russia and Ukraine to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Mr Ban will meet with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, and with Ukraine's interim leaders in Kiev on Friday.

But in the divided east of Ukraine, masked members of a pro-Russian self-defence unit manned checkpoints at entrances to Donetsk to protect the city from "Western forces".

Russia has also announced it is to pay off Crimea's estimated budget deficit, put at an estimated £900m.

And Mr†Putin announced plans to build a rail and road bridge from Crimea to southern Russia, and so avoiding the need to go through mainland Ukraine.

At the same time, a US guided-missile destroyer the USS Truxtun started a one-day military exercise in the Black Sea with the Bulgarian and Romanian navy and the Russian military launched large-scale aviation exercises in western regions.

Leading members of the US Congress are also demanding that international observers are sent to eastern and southern Ukraine.

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