Ukraine Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said Ukraine will not leave Crimea and troops are ready to defend Ukraine against Russia. Crimea is voting in a referendum on Sunday to remain a part of Ukraine or join the Russian Federation. Ukraine and the West said the referendum is illegal and will not recognize the outcome.
Crimea is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, but Ukraine soldiers have said there are as many as 30,000 Russian soldiers in the peninsula. Tenyukh said there are 22,000, but that is still more than the original 12,500 Russian soldiers before Moscow took over Crimea. He wants Moscow to recall the extra troops and for the Black Sea Fleet forces to return to their ports.
“Russia must immediately withdraw its military troops out of Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet to their places of permanent deployment as it is backed by certain basic agreements between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian navy headquarters was and is going to stay in Sevastopol. As for the National Guard, a few days ago, more than 40,000 people have already signed up and volunteered for the military commissariat.
He is confident his soldiers can defend Crimea.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of Russian servicemen in Crimea,” he said. “And the Ukrainian armed forces are therefore taking appropriate measures along the southern borders.”
Tenyukh said every senior Ukrainian officer in Crimea “clearly knows what is to be done depending on the situation”.
“Decisions will be taken depending on how events unfold. But let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it.”
Ukraine parliament approved interim President Oleksandr Turchynov’s resolution to build a national guard to protect Ukraine’s borders. Tenyukh and Russia’s Defense Ministry agreed to a truce in Crimea until March 21, but the details were not released or what will happen when the truce is over.