Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crimea Updates March 19 , 2014 - Daily news on the Ukraine / Crimea situations - keep your eyes on East Ukraine ! Russian Forces Storm Ukraine Naval Base In Crimea: Klitschko Calls For Ukraine Troop Withdrawal

Late day items......

Ukraine Announces Joint US Military Exercises As Obama Rules Out "Military Incursion" - Recap Of The Day's Events

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With the story of the day undoubtedly Yellen's first (bungled) press conference, it was easy to forget that the second coming of the Cold War is raging in the Ukraine. For those curious what they may have missed, here is a summary of the major events that took place in the troubled country this afternoon. Highlights from AP, AFP, Reuters, WSJ, Bloomberg, RIA and Interfax.
President Barack Obama ruled out U.S. military involvement in Ukraine on Wednesday, emphasizing diplomacy in the U.S. standoff with Russia over Crimea.

"We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine," Obama told KNSD, San Diego's NBC affiliate, in an interview. "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," Obama said.
Russian forces seized military installations across the disputed Crimean Peninsula on Wednesday, prompting Ukraine’s security chief to announce that his country will hold joint military exercises with the United States and Britain.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Lithuania, trying to reassure nations along Russia’s borders who were terrified by the sight of an expansion-minded Moscow.

"We’re in this with you, together," Biden said.
Ukraine's government is preparing to evacuate its remaining military personnel and their families from the breakaway region of Crimea now that Russia has moved to annex the territory.

Andriy Parubiy, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, didn't provide details on the mechanisms or timing of the plan, however.

"We're working on a plan to quickly and effectively move not only the military personnel, but first of all their family members, to continental Ukraine," Mr. Parubiy told a media briefing in Kiev. He added that 25,000 places had been reserved for such transfers altogether.

A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman in Crimea, however, said Wednesday evening that he had received no word yet of any order to evacuate.

Early in the day, pro-Russian forces in Crimea had stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters and allegedly detained the base's commander, sparking an ultimatum from Ukraine's acting president that the country would take "appropriate measures" if he and others weren't released.
... The ultimatum deadline has come and gone, and so far nobody has been released to the best of our knowledge.
Moscow will respond in kind to U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian officials over the Crimea dispute and is considering other steps if Washington escalates tensions, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday.

On Monday, the United States and the EU announced sanctions on a handful of officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region, most of whose 2 million residents are ethnic Russians.

Washington has threatened further sanctions while Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of Russia by the end of the week.

"We are looking at a broad range of responsive measures. They can be identical measures regarding certain lists of American officials - not necessarily representatives of the administration ... who have influenced American policies," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.

"There is also the possibility of passing asymmetrical measures, that means steps which, let's say ... won't go unnoticed in Washington," he said.
Russia threatened late Wednesday that it could alter its position at Iranian nuclear talks in response to pressure from the European Union and United States over its seizure of Crimea.

"We would not like to use these talks as an element of a stakes-raising game taking into account the moods in various European capitals, in Brussels and Washington," deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency.

Ryabkov was speaking in Vienna after the latest round of Iranian talks involving Russia. Those at the talks included the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said he saw "signs" a long-term nuclear deal could be reached.

Under an interim agreement Iran struck with the six powers in November, the two sides are aiming for a long-term deal by a July 20 target date. But Rybakov warned that Russia, that joined the West in urging Tehran to curtail its nuclear activities, could shift its stance, saying it considered its "historic" role in Crimea more important.

"But if we are forced, here we will take the path of counter-measures, because when it comes down to it, the historic value of what has happened in recent weeks and days from the point of view of restoring historical justice and reuniting Crimea and Russia is incomparable with what we are doing" on Iran, he said.

"At the end of the day, the choice and the decision is down to our colleagues in Washington and Brussels," Ryabkov said.
Russia’s economy is showing signs of a crisis, the government in Moscow said as the U.S. and the European Union announced sanctions over its plan to annex the Crimea region from Ukraine.

“The situation in the economy bears clear signs of a crisis,” Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Belyakov said in Moscow yesterday. The cabinet needs to refrain from raising the fiscal burden on companies, which would be the “wrong approach,” he said. “Taking money from companies and asking them afterward to modernize production is illogical and strange.”

Even before the standoff with the West, the worst since the Cold War, Russia’s economy was facing the weakest growth since a 2009 recession as consumer demand failed to make up for sagging investment. President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty today on Crimea joining Russia, signaling his defiance of Western sanctions. Russia won’t seek to further split Ukraine, he said in the Kremlin.

The Ukrainian crisis is putting a strain on Russia’s $2 trillion economy, which expanded 1.3 percent in 2013 after 3.4 percent the previous year. Last year’s
growth was “insufficient” and the current outlook and government forecasts “can’t satisfy us,” Putin said March 12.
Russia will cover Crimea's estimated 55 billion rouble ($1.53 billion) budget deficit with funds from the federal budget, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Channel 1 state television on Tuesday.

"The volume of the (budget) deficit of Crimea and Sevastopol is about 55 billion roubles," Siluanov said in an interview televised by Channel 1.

"The whole sum will definitely be covered with federal budget."
Switzerland has frozen negotiations on a free trade deal with Russia, the head of the country's economic affairs department said Wednesday, a decision he linked to Moscow's annexation of part of Ukraine's Crimea region.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster SRF Radio, Johann Schneider-Ammann said the talks with Russia, as well as the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Kazakhstan, had been halted. Mr. Schneider-Ammann, who is a member of Switzerland's seven-person cabinet, blamed the increasing crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea after a Sunday referendum for the halt.

"In this uncertain situation we cannot pretend as if nothing has happened," Mr. Schneider-Ammann said in the interview. He called the freeze the "first formal sign" of Switzerland's concern over the situation in Ukraine, saying the Alpine country wanted a trade deal with Russia "but not at any price."

The halt of the talks also applies to Switzerland's partners in the European Free Trade Association, which includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which were also due to take part in the next round of negotiations in April, a spokesman for the Swiss Economics Dept. said.
The German government said on Wednesday that defence contractor Rheinmetall's plan to deliver combat simulation kit to Russia was unacceptable in light of the diplomatic showdown with Moscow over its military occupation of Crimea.

The economy ministry, asked by Reuters about Rheinmetall's intention to honour contractual obligations to deliver about 100 million euros ($139 million) worth of technology to a Russian combat training centre, said it was in contact with the firm.

"The German government considers the export of the combat simulation centre to Russia unacceptable in the current circumstances," the ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

"The government is in contact with the company. At the moment no such export is foreseen," said the ministry.

Rheinmetall had said earlier on Wednesday that it intended to complete the delivery of the equipment, which was ordered about two years ago. The company said it had no further orders outstanding from Russia or Ukraine.
Moscow will decide whether to introduce visas for Ukrainians visiting Russia after it is officially informed of Kiev's new visa regime for Russians, Russian state news agency RIA reported a source at Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying on Wednesday.

Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy said earlier in the day that Ukraine's Foreign Ministry had been given instructions to introduce visas for Russians visiting Ukraine, as tensions rise between the two neighbours
European leaders will seek ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now.

Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region has revived doubts about whether the European Union should continue to rely on Russia for nearly a third of its gas, providing Gazprom with an average of $5 billion per month in revenue. Some 40 percent of that gas is shipped via Ukraine.

EU powerhouse Germany is among those with particularly close energy links to Russia and has echoed comments from Gazprom, Russia's top natural gas producer, that Russia has been a reliable supplier for decades.

EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis, however, had convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and the political will to end its supply dominance had never been greater. "Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the part of the European Union," one EU official said on condition of anonymity.

"At the back of people's minds, there will always be the doubt that if the relationship goes sour, Russia has that weapon and it's not something it should have," another official said, referring to Russia's option of severing supplies.
As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will debate the EU's "indigenous supplies", which include renewable energy and shale gas.
Russia has "shared [its] fears" about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the head of the Russian Federal Migration Service said on Wednesday.

"I won't keep it secret that we have shared our fears with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Our fears were understood to a certain extent, and a certain form of interaction with that organization has begun," Konstantin Romodanovsky told reporters in Moscow.

"I think that by combined efforts we will minimize the problems that the unstable situation in Ukraine may cause us," he said.
And that's a wrap.

Russia to redirect trade elsewhere in case of EU-US sanctions

Published time: March 19, 2014 16:59
Russian President's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolsky)
Russian President's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolsky)
Russia will switch to other trade partners if economic sanctions are imposed by the US and the European Union, the Russian President's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has said.
"If one economic partner on the one side of the globe impose sanctions, we will pay attention to new partners from the globe’s other side. The world is not monopolar, we will concentrate on other economic partners," RIA news quotes Peskov.
According to him, possible economic sanctions by the US and EU on Russia are unacceptable, and the Russian Federation intends to offer further economic cooperation with the European Union.
"We want to keep good relations with the EU and with the US. Especially with the European Union as it is the main economic, investment and trade partner of the Russian Federation. Our mutual economic dependence assumes that we shall have good relations," the Russian President's Press Secretary declared. He also emphasized that discussion of global economic problems without involvement of Russia can't be a complete discussion.
In a Tuesday telephone conversation between Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry they discussed the situation in Ukraine, and Lavrov said sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union against the Russian Federation are absolutely unacceptable and won’t come without consequences.
According to data from the EU’s Eurostat, Russia accounts for 7 percent of imports and 12 percent of exports in the 28 European Union bloc, making it the region's third most important trading partner, behind the USA and China.
In turn, the EU is Russia’s biggest trade and investment partner, with trade turnover estimated at $330 billion in 2012.
The introduction of sanctions may lead to a considerable financial losses for the EU. “The set of economic measures which the EU can apply is extremely limited”, says the deputy director of Institute of economic prediction of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Shirov.
“The Russian economy is 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. We generate a considerable volume of demand for European products crucial to such countries as Germany, Italy and France. The absence of normal trade and economic relations with Russia essentially means losses for these countries," the expert concludes.
The US is a much smaller trading partner for Russia, as its trade turnover with Russia was about about a tenth of that with the EU at $38.1 billion in 2012.In 2013, the value of its imports was $26.96 billion, more than double the value of its exports.

Boomerang effect

US based companies that have strong business ties with Russia, including General Electric and Boeing, are becoming increasingly concerned over US plans to harden sanctions against Russia after the association of the Crimea. Businesses are afraid of countermeasures from the Russian authorities, says Bloomberg.
“The CEOs are obviously very concerned about what is happening in Russia,” said John Engler, the president of the US Business Roundtable of major CEOs. “For some companies, it’s a substantial bit of their business. They are watching it very intently, trying to understand what will happen and what the next steps will be.”
The aviation subsidiary of General Electric, GE Capital Aviation Services, has a fleet of 54 airplanes in Russia. The largest aircraft leasing company in the world is watching closely the development of interrelations. Boeing is afraid the demand for airliners will fall if the dispute leads to a decrease in global economic growth.
Some of the world’s biggest companies in the West have already said they would run their businesses with Russia as usual and won’t be involved in the political conflict.
Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, that has major exploration projects in Russia, said that the Texas-based company, wouldn’t take sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
On a country level, Latvia has so far voiced the biggest concern over sanctions against Russia, as the adverse effect would hit the country the hardest compared to all the EU member states. The country could lose up to 10 percent of its GDP, as the action against Russia could have a big adverse effect, according to the country’s Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma. On Monday Latvia also said that the EU should compensate any countries hurt by sanctions against Russia.
On Wednesday the heads of nearly 100 companies from the Business Roundtable association will meet in Washington to discuss the question of sanctions.

Ukraine turmoil LIVE UPDATES

Published time: February 18, 2014 15:03
Edited time: March 19, 2014 09:59

People wave Russian flags as they look at Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering a speech on a screen on March 18, 2014, in Sevastopol. (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)
People wave Russian flags as they look at Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering a speech on a screen on March 18, 2014, in Sevastopol. (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing Crimea as a sovereign and independent state. It comes after the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a referendum on Sunday with over 96% voting for integration into Russia.

Wednesday, March 19

12:21 GMT:
Britain warned President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that Russia could face permanent exclusion from the G8 if the Kremlin took further steps against Ukraine.
"I think we should be discussing whether or not to expel Russia permanently from the G8 if further steps are taken," Prime Minister David Cameron told the British Parliament. (Reuters)
12:20 GMT:
President Putin has ordered the Labor Ministry to urgently increase pensions in Crimea to conform to Russian standards, once the peninsula officially joins Russia.
“All Russian citizens must be in equal conditions. Doing this is your task. And don’t waste time, do it as soon as possible,” he told Labor Minister Maksim Topilin.
There are about 677,000 people in Crimea eligible to receive pension from the government. Most of them would have the payments increased by 1.8 to 2 times after the reunification, according to the ministry estimates.
The transition however requires some legislation to be adopted.
12:19 GMT:
The Commander of the Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Vitko, has called Crimea shooting “provocation”, saying that back on March 14, Black Sea Fleet officials had already warned about possible provocations.

“What happened in Simferopol yesterday is, unambiguously, a provocation – having the work of a sniper, similar to those at Maidan, written all over it. As a result, two people died. Nevertheless, the hotheads in the current leadership of Ukraine gave [their troops] permission to use weapons. I want to warn those and, above all, the personnel of the Ukrainian Navy - God forbid anyone will shoot, even from a slingshot. Matches are not toys. I ask to understand it literally,”
 Vitko said.
11:53 GMT:
Kerch Strait Bridge between the Chushka Spit, Taman Peninsula, south-eastern Russia and the Kerch Peninsula, Crimea, will be built for both cars and trains, said Vladimir Putin during the press-conference.
The bridge project also aims at building a tunnel under the Kerch Strait, according to the Russian Minister for Transportation, Maksim Sokolov.
11:46 GMT:
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday he had told his Russian counterpart that a mandate for a mission by Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers to Ukraine must be agreed within 24 hours.
Steinmeier told reporters he had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chairman of the OSCE and that they had overcome differences on the number of staff to be sent but still had to agree on the regions to be visited.
"We need an observer mission now and in my conversations this morning I said agreement on a mandate must take place within the next 24 hours," Steinmeier told a news conference. (Reuters)
11:09 GMT:
The US and the EU, which encouraged the armed coup in Kiev, are the ones who violated the Budapest memorandum (the document guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for nuclear disarmament) the Russian foreign ministry charged. The 1994 memorandum was signed by Russia, the UK and the US as guarantors.
“One can’t but ask: how did all those guarantees correspond to the threats of sanctions against the Ukrainian leadership, which the EU and the US voiced on many occasions during the riots in Kiev? What were they if not an economic coercion applied to a sovereign state?” the ministry said in a statement.
“What about the virtually constant presence of western envoys at Maidan?” the ministry added.“How should one take statements coming from the US and the EU, which said they did not see the lawfully elected head of state as a legitimate partner, and instead welcomed the new leaders appointed at the square in violation of all constitutional procedures?”
The statement comes in response to criticism of Russia for recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state following a referendum and its intention to accept the breakaway Ukrainian region as part of Russia. Critics said Russia violated the Budapest memorandum in so doing.
10:52 GMT:
More than 30 Ukrainian soldiers have left Ukraine’s Navy HQ in Crimea’s Sevastopol after the building was taken over by unarmed pro-Russian activists. Many of them were welcomed at the gates by their friends and relatives living in the city.
The move follows closed door negotiations between the Kiev-appointed head of Ukrainian Navy Vice Admiral Sergey Gaiduk and head of Russian Black Sea Fleet Vice Admiral Aleksandr Vitko. The Russian admiral arrived at the scene to ensure a peaceful transition of the headquarters.
Earlier Crimean authorities said that all Ukrainian troops deployed in the peninsula may peacefully leave for Ukraine or stay and choose between resigning and enlisting in the Russian army, once Crimea becomes part of the Russian Federation.
10:17 GMT:
The Russian Constitutional Court has ruled that the international treaty between Russia and Crimea, which would make the latter part of the former, does not violate the Russian constitution.
The decision was taken unanimously, the court Chair Valery Zorkin said.
The court’s ruling on the treaty, which was signed earlier on Tuesday, was needed before the document could be ratified by the Russian parliament. The ratification process is expected to be completed in both chambers of the parliament on Friday.
Meanwhile in Kiev Ukrainian Constitutional Court is reviewing on Wednesday Crimea’s declaration of independence.
The session started with Judge Oleg Sergeychuk refusing to participate due to “direct influence on the judges of the Constitutional Court, violation of their independent status and threats of prosecution” on the part of the coup-imposed government. He said that any ruling issued in such conditions would not be considered as legitimate by the Ukrainian society. That rejection was in turn dismissed by other judges.
09:59 GMT:
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy cannot travel to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, because Brussels has denied him permission, according to Russia’s interior ministry.
“His European colleagues didn’t let him go to Moscow,” added the statement from the ministry.
Van Rompuy wanted to visit Moscow to discuss the latest events in Ukraine including Crimea joining Russia after the referendum on March 16. Russian authorities had welcomed the EC president’s decision and confirmed that such a meeting had been planned and that the aforesaid issues had been expected to be discussed.
07:55 GMT:
Ukrainian armed forces commander Mikhail Kucin, has informed his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov that he has authorized the use of military force by troops stationed in Crimea, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
In a phone conversation with Gerasimov, Kucin has emphasized de-escalation and a political solution to the crisis, rather than a violent one. The green light to use force has been given by him in the aftermath of the events in Simferopol, which have led to the death of one Ukrainian soldier and another from the Crimean Self-Defense Forces, while two others were injured. ukraine

Russia Launches Military Aviation "Drills" Near East Ukraine

Tyler Durden's picture

Just days before the annexation of Crimea, while promising that they would not instigate actions to antagonize the West,Russia launched a massive unscheduled military drill. Now, with Crimea under their pro-Russian forces control, and despite promises that Putin seeks to go no further than Crimea, the Wall Street Journal reports that Russia will begin unscheduled military aviation exercises in regions bordering Ukraine. The crews will be practicing "actions during airstrikes" on enemy military targets, communications jamming, air defense and attacks by military jets, the spokesman said.

Russia will begin military aviation exercises in regions bordering Ukraine, Interfax news agency reported citing a spokesman for the military Wednesday.

The news comes a day after Russia signed a treaty to annex Crimea.

The military exercises, which will involve 40 combat crews and 300 servicemen, will go on till the end of May and are scheduled, the spokesman said.

The crews will be practicing "actions during airstrikes" on enemy military targets, communications jamming, air defense and attacks by military jets, the spokesman said.

On Thursday the Russian military already announced that it was increasing the intensity of military exercises involving troops on the ground in regions bordering Ukraine.

Last month Russia announced unscheduled military exercises that involved 150,000 troops in regions close to its border with Ukraine. This prompted fears that Russia was considering military action in mainland Ukraine. The soldiers involved in the drills were ordered to return to their bases last week but the order didn't apply to troops that had been sent to Crimea.
So once again, Putin spoke, made promises, the market bought it, and tensions escalated...How odd that the market expected the Russian president to telegraph his intention in a public broadcast...

Russian Forces Storm Ukraine Naval Base In Crimea: Klitschko Calls For Ukraine Troop Withdrawal

Tyler Durden's picture

It only makes sense that now that Crimea is officially Russian territory once again, that the Russians would do with it as they see fit. Which they did. Overnight Russian troops and unarmed men stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol and raised the Russian flag in what Reuters described as "a tense but peaceful takeover that signals Moscow's intent to neutralize any armed opposition." Russian soldiers, and so-called "self-defense" units of mainly unarmed volunteers who are supporting them across the Black Sea peninsula, moved in early in the morning and quickly took control.
Keep in mind that this took place the day after the Ukraine military authorized its forces to use weapons to defend themselves if attacked. Considering that they did not do that is only further evidence of just how seriously Putin and Russian generals take any attempts by Ukraine to "defend" itself.
And yet in what is certainly an invitation for future provocations, shortly after the incident, Ukraine's acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh said in Kiev that the country's forces would not withdraw from Crimea even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty to make it part of Russia.
But an hour later, Ukrainian servicemen, unarmed and in civilian clothing, began walking out of the headquarters. As NBC added, "about a dozen Ukrainian servicemen were later pictured being led out of the base."
More from Reuters:
The first group of servicemen was followed within a few minutes by a handful of troops in Ukrainian uniform, looking shell-shocked at the dramatic turn of events. "This morning they stormed the compound. They cut the gates open, but I heard no shooting," said Oleksander Balanyuk, a captain in the navy.

"This thing should have been solved politically. Now all I can do is stand here at the gate. There is nothing else I can do," he told Reuters, appearing ashamed and downcast.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported that Alexander Vitko, commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet which is based in Sevastopol, had been involved in talks at the headquarters. Viktor Melnikov, in charge of the "self-defence" unit, said talks were going on to negotiate a surrender.

"We've had difficult negotiations with the command here," he told reporters. "Some Ukrainian servicemen are already leaving, without their uniforms, but there was no violence." A Reuters reporter saw three armed men, possibly Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms, at the gate and at least a dozen more inside the compound.
Yet for all the ongoing posturing, the situation on the ground appears to have calmed down:
In Crimea's main city, Simferopol, where one Ukrainian serviceman was killed after a shooting on Tuesday, the situation was calm on Wednesday.

It was the first death on the Black Sea peninsula from a military clash since the region came under Russian control three weeks ago. Ukrainian prime minister Yatseniuk denounced it as a "war crime".

Aksyonov, Crimea's pro-Moscow leader, suggested the incident was the fault of "provocateurs" opposed to the annexation of the region to Russia.

"Unfortunately, two people were killed," he said, speaking in Moscow. "I'm sure we will find these scoundrels. The security service of the Crimean Republic is investigating."
But nowhere is the resignation within Ukraine's acting political leadership more evident than in a statement just uttered by potential presidential candidate and former boxer, Vitali Klitschko:
More appeasement of Putin: will it result in the annexation of east Ukraine? Surely. The only question is when.

Ukrainian servicemen queue to get cash from an ATM machine outside their military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 19, 2014. (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)
Ukrainian servicemen queue to get cash from an ATM machine outside their military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 19, 2014. (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)
At least 30 Ukrainian servicemen have left the Ukrainian Navy headquarters in the city of Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula after demonstrators stormed the premises early in the morning.
Crimean self-defense troops have made a passage to let Ukrainian servicemen leave the territory of the HQ. Reports on the number of people to have left vary with ITAR-TASS saying around 50 personnel are gone, Rear Admiral Sergey Gaiduk of the Ukrainian Navy among them.
However, RIA Novosti says that the whereabouts of Ukrainian navy chief is unknown.
People began protesting outside the HQ at 08:00 GMT. Several thousand participants cut fences, stormed inside and changed the flags on the flagpoles. Some of the participants of the rally were singing the Russian national anthem.
There were no immediate reports of violence.
The protesters hoisted Russian and St. Andrew's flags, the latter being the Russian Navy Ensign, according to Interfax.
Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 19, 2014. (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)
Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, March 19, 2014. (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)

There was an immediate alert on the territory of the HQ and the Ukrainian servicemen lined up in front of the protesters, reports Interfax. The line was broken by cars belonging to activists that entered the territory.
The protesters were calling upon the Ukrainian servicemen to leave the HQ. An ambulance was also called as a precaution.
UkrStream.TV cameras which recorded the situation near the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy show no violence on the precinct.
After the protesters entered the navy HQ territory, they began holding talks with the representatives of the Ukrainian Navy.
According to Sevastopol news websites, the Commander of the Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Vitko, later arrived to negotiate with Gaiduk.
After just 15 minutes of negotiations, Vitko left the grounds and refused to comment on the results of the talks with Gaiduk.
Before leaving, both rear admirals held talks with Admiral Yury Ilyin, the new Army chief and Admiral Viktor Maksimov, the head of Ukraine’s Naval Forces.
Earlier, there were reports of possible provocations. Some unidentified men tried to enter the building. However, the attempts failed due to Self-Defense Unit guards and Crimean Cossacks.

Ukrainian armed forces commander Mikhail Kucin has informed his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov that he has authorized the use of military force by troops stationed in Crimea, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
In a phone conversation with Gerasimov, Kucin has emphasized de-escalation and a political solution to the crisis, rather than a violent one. The green light to use force has been given by him in the aftermath of the events in Simferopol, which have led to the death of one Ukrainian soldier and another from the Crimean Self-Defense Forces, while two others were injured.
On March 16, Crimea held a referendum in which over 97 percent of its citizens voted to join Russia. Two days later, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status, became federal objects of the Russian Federation.

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Ukrainian officers abandon Sevastopol naval base

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