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Ukraine making plans to pull troops from Crimea

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's government said Wednesday it has begun drawing up plans to pull its troops from Crimea, where Russia is steadily taking formal control as its armed forces seize military installations across the disputed peninsula.

In a warning to Moscow, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden declared the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies, which include neighbors to Russia.

Standing side by side with a pair of Baltic leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, Biden said the U.S. was "absolutely committed" to defending its allies, adding that President Barack Obama plans to seek concrete commitments from NATO members to ensure the alliance can safeguard its collective security.

"Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior," Biden said, after meeting in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins.

Ukraine's military, which is heavily outnumbered in Crimea, has come under increased pressure since the region was nominally incorporated into Russia on Tuesday. National Security and Defense Council secretary Andriy Parubiy said Ukraine will seek U.N. support to turn Crimea into a demilitarized zone as it seeks to relocate armed forces to the mainland.

Earlier Wednesday, masked Russian-speaking troops seized control over Ukraine's naval headquarters in the city of Sevastopol. A Ukrainian navy commander was also detained during that operation.

The several hundred militiamen who captured the base in Sevastopol met no resistance. Sevastopol is also the home port of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, and tens of thousands of Russian-led troops are now patrolling Crimea.

It came a day after a confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militia left two dead.

The Russian-speaking troops, who arrived on the base after the storming, wore helmets, flak jackets and uniforms with no identifying insignia. By afternoon, they were in full control of the naval headquarters, a set of three-story boxy white concrete buildings with blue trim. It was not immediately clear how many, if any, Ukrainian servicemen remained on the base.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said no one was injured in the raid, which it said was led by pro-Russian militiamen and Cossacks.

The ministry said in its statement that Rear Adm. Sergei Haiduk was detained by unknown people after the storming of the fleet headquarters. The Russian state ITAR-Tass news agency reported that he was being questioned by Crimean prosecutors.

Ukraine's defense minister and deputy prime minister had planned to travel to Crimea on Wednesday in what they said was a bid to avert an escalation in hostilities.

The prime minister in Crimea warned after the announcement of their departure that they would be turned back, however.

"They are not welcome in Crimea," Sergei Aksyonov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "They will not be allowed to enter Crimea. They will be sent back."

Interfax later cited Welfare Minister Lyudmila Denisova as saying the officials had been denied entry to Crimea. She said an emergency session of the National Security and Defense Council will held in response.

At the Ukrainian navy headquarters, an Associated Press photographer said the militiamen took down the gate and made their way onto the base. They then raised the Russian flag on the square by the headquarters.

The unarmed militiamen waited for an hour on the square and, following the arrival of the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, they took over the building.

The AP photographer was able to enter the headquarters and saw the militia roaming around while the Ukrainian servicemen were packing up and leaving.

On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia following a referendum Sunday in which residents of the region overwhelmingly backed the move.

Jubilant crowds in Moscow and other cities across Russia hailed the annexation, while Ukraine's new government called Putin a threat to the "civilized world and international security," and the U.S. and the European Union threatened tougher sanctions against Moscow. On Monday, Washington and Brussels targeted Russian and Crimean officials with visa bans and asset freezes.

Russian news agencies on Wednesday cited Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin as saying the treaty signed by Putin has been ruled valid, thus formally clearing another hurdle for Moscow to annex Crimea. The treaty now only requires ratification by the Russian parliament.

A Ukrainian serviceman and a member of a militia were killed by gunfire in the incident in Crimea on Tuesday.

It is unclear whether the militiaman was a Ukrainian citizen. Although Moscow has insistently denied it has not deployed its own troops in Crimea, people in the peninsula have reported seeing a large number of military vehicles with Russian plates.

Thousands of troops under apparent Russian command took over Crimea two weeks before Sunday's hastily called referendum, seizing Ukrainian military bases, blockading others and pressuring Ukrainian soldiers to surrender their arms and leave.

Putin insisted Russia's military presence in Crimea was limited to those stationed under the terms of a treaty with Ukraine that allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops at its Black Sea fleet base. Ukraine claims that Russia deployed further forces, however, and expressly went against its request for troops to remain confined within their barracks.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
teeveequeen March 19 2014 at 3:58 PM

watch out Obama ... Putin could be coming after YOU next ... and your little dog Bo

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chasmwuk March 19 2014 at 4:29 PM

It's funny that the same American and western leaders who say Crimea had no right to secede from Ukraine were the first ones to cheer when the USSR and Yugoslavia imploded. For that matter, we Texans seceded from Mexico in 1836 and a decade later decided to let ourselves be annexed by the U.S. Had there been a UN and NATO in 1846, they would have condemned the U.S.

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2 replies
Ed chasmwuk March 19 2014 at 4:38 PM

The key phrase in your well stated comment is "ten years." Rushing in and forcing a secession vote under the eyes of heavily armed troops is not quite the same.

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1 reply
mrland Ed March 19 2014 at 4:48 PM

What I recall through the history books is that a few people wanted to secede from Mexico after Mexico said they could no longer have slaves. Some of those same people called in US troops for assistance (San Antonio). If anything, the US set a recent historical precedent.

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jdcoderus chasmwuk March 19 2014 at 9:39 PM

This is the "foreign policy" of our State Department: divide and conquer :) As far as " voluntary" statehood of some states - Alaska ( $17 mil to Russia to wage war against Japan - lost), Louisiana ( $15 million from Napoleon to go to war against Russia in 1812 - lost), Hawaii - annexed because local Dole farms were worried that new constitution will dissalow buying more property, and let local Hawaiians to vote - which was anathema at that time, Queen deposed, placed under house arrest, and,with marines help, added as a 50th state..no referendums in Alaska, Louisiana or Hawaii. Philippines - bought from Spain for $5 million after Adm. Dewey defeated Spanish Armada. Virgin Islands - split between GB and US - 2 islands each. Samoa was halved into American Samoa and Samoa. None of the people in territories were asked what they think or what they want/don't want. Funny, for sure ..

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1 reply
nanksy jdcoderus March 20 2014 at 7:48 AM

Both you and mrland had better reread your history. That is not the way I read it. Russia sold Alaska because they needed money They had taken it from the natives without asking , by the way.. We had no part in their war in Japan. Louisiana was sold by the French because they were fighting most of Europe and Russia. Jefferson considered it a good way to get Europe out of North America. Hawaii did not become a state until more than fifty years after the Queen was disposed and then they voted to become a state. The Phillipines became a protecterate when the Japanese lost it in 1945 and was given Independence quite a few years ago. When Spain lost it we had a treaty to have navel bases there. We did not rule or own the country. Cuba became a protecterate when Spain was defeated in the Spanish American War, and gained Independence after a few years. The territories we still have are territories by their choice and are not exploited for our gain nor do we rule them. They are self governing.
I grant you that no one asked the native population of the continental North America if they wanted to become the United States.

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Frederick March 19 2014 at 3:20 PM

I don't understand it. If there was a large group of people who were part of the USA in the past and spoke nothing except English and people who were screeming to become part of the USA again how would you feel about that.
I think Putin is correct in rolling these people up and letting them become part of Russia again. That is what they want and that is what Russia wants and what business is that of the USA.
Think Obama is banging this head against a wall..................again!

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1 reply
schaffhaus Frederick March 19 2014 at 3:34 PM

aghast! you need to look at the hiustory before the USSR

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Jacquie March 19 2014 at 4:42 PM

Russia's President invades another country......Our President picks his NCAA bracket.......

The World is laughing.....

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1 reply
sttlkng1 Jacquie March 19 2014 at 4:47 PM

If he wants to pick his bracket, take a break from the tough job of being President, (alright, that last part was a joke), and go pick your bracket in your office. But to make a big deal of this on tv makes our so called president a worldwide joke.

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*Antje D & OMax* March 19 2014 at 5:09 PM


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barryaclarke March 19 2014 at 4:42 PM

In a warning to Moscow, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden declared the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies, which include neighbors to Russia. "HELLO" What the hell just just happened in Crimea Mr. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden? What is wrong? Is President Obama now instructing you on how to draw red lines that aren't to be crossed?...............

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2 replies
Mitch barryaclarke March 19 2014 at 4:58 PM

Ukraine is not a NATO signee.

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frozenbull barryaclarke March 19 2014 at 5:11 PM

They are such ******** in that White House . The 3 stooges minus one

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gerald01612 March 19 2014 at 4:45 PM

That stop sign wasn't in Russian. The letters weren't backwards and all F---d up. I was lead to believe these folks all spoke and wrote Russian.

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candy March 20 2014 at 12:19 PM

1. Crimea is semi-autonomous

Crimea has been a part of Ukraine since 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev "gave" it to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. Since that time, Crimea has existed as a semi-autonomous region of the Ukrainian nation, with strong political bonds to Ukraine — and equally strong cultural ties to Russia.

Crimea has its own legislative body — the 100-member Supreme Council of Crimea — and executive power is held by a Council of Ministers, which is headed by a chairman who serves with the approval of the president of Ukraine. The courts, however, are part of the judicial system of Ukraine and have no autonomous authority.

2. Crimea's climate and geography

Crimea is surrounded almost completely by the Black Sea, and encompasses an area of about 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers), roughly the size of the state of Maryland. The peninsula is connected to the Ukrainian mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop.

And Crimea — which rests about 200 miles (322 km) northwest of Sochi, Russia — enjoys the same mild, year-round climate as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The climate is a big reason why Russian leaders are so adamant about keeping Crimea within their sphere: The Black Sea is home to Russia's only warm-water ports.

Though Crimea is recognized worldwide as a part of Ukraine, the Russian Navy has kept its Black Sea Fleet stationed at a naval base in Sevastopol (in southern Crimea) since the late 1700s. In 2010, Russia negotiated an agreement that allows the country to share the all-important Sevastopol naval base through 2042, in exchange for deep discounts of about $40 billion on natural gas from Russia.

3. Guns, gas and grains

Beyond the strategic importance of Crimea and Ukraine, the situation in the region is complicated by both the abundance and scarcity of certain natural resources.

Ukraine has been called "the breadbasket of Russia" for centuries, since the region produced much of the grain needed to feed the country's vast czarist empire. Even today, Ukraine is one of the world's largest producers of corn and wheat, and much of that passes through Crimean ports. (More than 50 percent of the Crimean economy is devoted to food production and distribution industries, according to Ukrainian government figures.)

But the semiarid climate that makes Crimea such a popular tourist destination also makes the peninsula largely dependent on Ukraine for water, as well as about 70 percent of its food, according to Slate.

The energy picture in Crimea and Ukraine is also tricky: Crimea relies on Ukraine for much of its electricity, and Europe relies on Russia for about 25 percent of its natural gas, according to CNN. Furthermore, the natural gas that Russia sends to Europe travels largely through pipelines that snake across the Ukrainian landscape.

That's why any instability in the region is bound to send shock waves through international energy markets

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1 reply
candy candy March 20 2014 at 12:23 PM

Crimea is 10k sq miles. About the size of Vermont. It was also seized 50 years ago by Ukraine. It is 90% Russian. Compare this - it's the size of Vermont - our smallest state, and it's like Rocky Point, Mexico that would be 90% American and use to be part of America and wants to be part of America Again. Would America say no? Educate yourself, before ranting!

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2 replies
tjbar53 candy March 20 2014 at 12:54 PM

Crimea is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet. It is Russia's only warm water port with access to the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus. It's hardly Vermont.

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nnegorev candy March 20 2014 at 2:05 PM

Seized? Fifty years ago, both Ukraine and Crimea were part of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev's government redrew the boundaries, and Crimea became part of Ukraine. When the Soviet Union broke up, there was no big demand for special status for Ukraine. It was only recently, when Putin began beating a big chauvinist drum, that Crimean nationality became a critical issue.

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jeffreysneller March 19 2014 at 3:12 PM

Notice how this A.P. story parrots the party line calling the Russian forces "Militiamen."

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1 reply
Welcome Justin jeffreysneller March 19 2014 at 3:32 PM

No, it refers to the local militia as the Russian backed militiamen. At least it is finally willing to admit that the soldiers their are not actually Russian soldiers, which is something most media outlets refuse to acknowledge. Try reading info from foreign news agencies such as BBC or Reuters if you actually want accurate information.

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stewmehlhaff March 19 2014 at 3:09 PM

VP Joe, say it ain't so! Go ahead draw another red line for your boss and then when Putin spits over it, draw another one. What do we expect with these two clowns (Barack/Joe) in office!

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