Earlier today, the government in Kyiv attempted to issue an ultimatum over the seizure of Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and the capture of their naval chief. That turned out to be an empty bluff. Instead, the Ukrainian government will withdraw from the peninsula, and take their personnel and families back to the mainland:
Ukraine is drawing up plans to withdraw its soldiers and their families from Crimea, the security and defence chief in Kiev says.
Andriy Parubiy said they wanted to move them “quickly and efficiently” to mainland Ukraine.
The earlier ultimatum promised an “adequate response,” but that didn’t scare the Russians much:
Ukraine’s acting president warned Crimea’s Kremlin-backed leaders on Wednesday they had only three hours to release the captured head of the splintered ex-Soviet country’s navy or face “an adequate response”.
Pro-Russian forces had earlier seized two Crimean navy bases and detained Ukraine’s naval chief as Moscow tightened its grip on the flashpoint peninsula despite Western warnings that its “annexation” would not go unpunished.
Dozens of despondent Ukrainian soldiers — one of them in tears — filed out of the Ukraine’s main navy headquarters in the historic Black Sea port city of Sevastopol after it was stormed by hundreds of pro-Kremlin protesters and masked Russian troops.
AFP shows Ukrainian sailors leaving their Crimean headquarters:
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) March 19, 2014
At this point, it still appears that Sergiy Gayduk is being held prisoner by Russian forces. They claimed that Gayduk was about to order Ukrainian forces to open fire on civilians, which would be a remarkable difference from the careful posture of Ukraine thus far to avoid any pretext for a further military invasion. One presumes that the retreat includes a handover of Gayduk and other hostages, but it’s not certain at this point.
Ukraine also declared today that it would leave the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, which might end up being as provocative as Ukraine has been careful:
Andriy Parubiy, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said Wednesday that Ukraine will leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, an international organization consisting of Russia and several former Soviet Republics.
The only other country to leave was Georgia, who left after the Russia-Georgia War of 2008. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania never participated.
The Kremlin told BBC that Ukrainian soldiers on the peninsula are “free” to either switch sides or get the hell out:
It was unclear if the day’s events represented an organized push by the new Crimean government to force the Ukrainians out. The region’s many military installations have been sites of sporadic confrontations between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers since Russia took over the peninsula.
Ukrainian military officers who remain in Crimea are welcome to join the Russian army or are “free to leave the peninsula,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC.
That’s an odd idea of “free,” but about on par for Russia these days.