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Ukraine orders Crimean troop withdrawal

THE HAGUE/KIEV--Ukraine on Monday ordered its outnumbered troops to withdraw from Crimea following the peninsula's lightning seizure and annexation by Russia in response to the fall in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime.

The dramatic but seemingly inevitable announcement came after the fall of another Ukrainian base in Crimea and as world leaders gathered in The Hague for a security summit dominated by concerns over the most explosive East-West standoff since the Cold War.

“Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, we're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters shortly after landing in the Netherlands.

A top commander in NATO had warned on Sunday that the Western military alliance was carefully watching massive Russian troop formations on the eastern border of Ukraine that could theoretically make a push across the vast ex-Soviet country at any point.

Moscow has denied any such plans despite President Vladimir Putin's open ambition to resurrect vestiges of the Soviet empire and stamp his authority over eastern European nations that sought protection from the West following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

But the Kremlin has made clear it intends to “protect” compatriots in the Russifies southeastern swaths of Ukraine that it says have been victimized by violent nationalists since last month's rise to power of a pro-European team.

'Enormous loss'

Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov somberly told top lawmakers that both servicemen and their families would now be relocated to the mainland.

“The national security and defense council has reached a decision, under instructions from the defense ministry, to conduct a redeployment of military units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” Turchynov said in nationally televised remarks.

“The cabinet of ministers has instructions to resettle the families of soldiers as well as everyone else who today is forced to leave their homes under the pressure and aggression of the Russian army's occupying forces.”

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People line up to get their Russian passports in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on Monday, March 24. Crimeans have been given a month to expressly state that they want to stay Ukrainian, or they will automatically become Russian citizens, although they still have to obtain passports.

(AFP)

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