Ukraine replaces defence chief after Crimea capitulation

Russian-backed Moldovan separatists claim to have neutralised Ukrainian spy drone

Ukraine replaced its defence minister yesterday amid growing public anger over the government’s handling of the Crimea crisis, as Russian forces stormed the last ship under Kiev’s control in the Black Sea peninsula.

Ukrainian servicemen and their families continue to leave their bases in Crimea, after finally receiving an order from Kiev to evacuate the region. The area has been under Russian control for several weeks and was formally annexed by Moscow last Friday.

Military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said last night: "The [Russian] assault team is onboard the [minesweeper] Cherkasy . The crew has barricaded itself inside . . . The assault is on."

In the main Crimean port of Sevastopol, home for centuries to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and leased from Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union, mayor Alexei Chaly announced that “the revolution is over” and told volunteer militiamen to go home.


Local volunteers
Moscow claims it has not sent additional troops to Crimea, and that thousands of men in uniform without insignia, using the latest Russian weapons and military vehicles, are actually local volunteers.

Ukrainian defence minister Ihor Tenyukh was dismissed by parliament in Kiev, amid criticism of the government over Crimea, which Ukraine lost without its troops firing a shot.

Officials told them not to use force to defend their bases, fearing a bigger attack from Russia.

Critics say immediate withdrawal from the region could have kept Ukraine’s military intact and allowed more weaponry to be retained.

Mr Tenyukh said about two-thirds of Ukrainian servicemen had chosen to stay in Crimea and join Russian forces.

Naval staff returning to the mainland will be redeployed in Black Sea ports like Odessa, Mykolayiv and Kherson, where part of Ukraine’s navy – including its flagship – remains.

Mr Tenyukh was replaced by Mykhailo Koval, the chief of Ukraine’s border guards.

Officials in Kiev and the West warn that Russia may intend to push into other parts of Ukraine and could seek to destabilise neighbouring Moldova, another ex-Soviet state defying Moscow by seeking closer ties with the EU and Nato.

Transdniestria – a Moscow-backed separatist region of Moldova – claimed yesterday to have spotted an unmanned Ukrainian drone spying on its territory and taken action to “stop it functioning”.

The Kiev government is under further pressure after paramilitary nationalist group Right Sector accused police of murdering one of its leaders and demanded the resignation of Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe