2 March, 16:50

Ukraine troops in Crimea change sides to back pro-Russia authorities without bloodshed – insider

Ukraine troops in Crimea change sides to back pro-Russia authorities without bloodshed – insider

Crimea-stationed Ukrainian troops have switched sides to join forces with local pro-Russia authorities in the Russian-dominated autonomous republic of Crimea, a source in the region’s administration has said.

The source has stressed the transition was peaceful and without a single shot being fired.

Some of the servicemen reportedly left their posts without prior warning, while others surrendedered letters of resignation but the majority went over to the Crimean government.

According to the source, all troops will soon be sworn in by the authority of the Crimean republic.

Crimea-deployed Ukrainian military massively taking Crimean side

The Ukrainian military serving in Crimea-deployed units are joining local self-defence forces, the ITAR-TASS correspondent reports from Crimea. Many servicemen, disagreeing with Kiev's policy, are leaving their units and tendering their resignation. Some units have said they will take orders only from the command of Crimea's self-defence forces, the eyewitness says.

Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine, is now at the center of the ongoing crisis in the country as pro-Russia groups move to distance themselves from the newly formed formed national parliament that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych a week ago.

The current development comes shortly after Russia's upper house of parliament unanimously approved a request from President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to deploy military forces in Ukraine's mainly ethnic Russian-populated region of Crimea.

Putin issued his request in response to what he said was a threat to the lives of Russian citizens and military forces in naval bases in Crimea.

Putin, who is the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces, has not yet ordered the deployment of a "limited military contingent" in Ukraine, but said in telephone conversations with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama early on Sunday that Moscow reserved the right to protect its own interests and those of Russian speakers in the event of violence breaking out in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

There is already a substantial Russian military presence in southern Ukraine, courtesy of the leased Black Sea Fleet naval base on the Crimean Peninsula.

Large movements of Russian troops have been reported around the peninsula, which is in defiance of express instructions from Ukrainian authorities this week for Russian soldiers to remain confined to their quarters.

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-Moscow protesters staged a number of rallies in eastern Ukraine on Saturday backing the anti-Kiev stance of the Crimean population and calling for Russia to defend them as well.

New authorities in Kiev have already responded to Russia's plans by putting the army on high alert and calling up all military reserves.

Kiev also appealed to NATO on Saturday, with a request to, "consider all options to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine".

The North Atlantic Council, NATO's main governing body, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss events in Ukraine, the military bloc's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in his Twitter blog.

Russian PM warns Ukrainian counterpart Russia reserves right to defend its citizens, troops in Crimea

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had a telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Saturday during which he expressed his interest in preserving stable and friendly relations with Ukraine, the Russian government press service says.

"However, it was noted that the Russian side reserves the right to protect the lawful interests of citizens and servicemen deployed in the territory the Autonomous Republic of Crimea," the press service said. Russian armed forces "in case of need have the right to act in the framework of the mandate issued by the Federation Council to the president," Medvedev said.

"Also during the conversation Medvedev pointed to the possible responsibility of Ukrainian officials, if they make unlawful decisions on the use of force against Russian citizens," the press service said.

Read more:

Sevastopol is home for Russian Black Fleet - Russia's Deputy PM

Powerful pro-Russian sentiments in Crimea will disappoint Western observers - Russian MP

UNSC urges nations to show restraint with regard to Ukraine

Ukraine: total mobilization, combat alert amid Crimea tensions

Voice of Russia, Interfax, TASS, RIA

  •  
    and share via