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Ukraine defense minister resigns over Crimean withdrawal

KIEV -- Ukraine's besieged defense minister resigned on Tuesday after his forces began a humiliating withdrawal from Crimea without firing a shot against Russian forces who claimed the Black Sea peninsula.

Crimea's effective loss — though recognized by no Western power — has dealt a heavy psychological blow to many Ukrainians who have already spent the past years mired in corruption and economic malaise.

Ukraine's ground commanders in Crimea had complained bitterly of indecision and confusion among the top brass in Kiev since Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision on March 1 to seek the right to use force against his neighbor in response to last month's fall in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime.

Some 228 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada parliament supported Igor Tenyukh's dismissal after the acting defense minister tendered his resignation in an emotional address broadcast live across the nation of 46 million people.

“It seems that the actions of the interim defense minister in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea ... has displeased some,” said Tenyukh.

“I have never clung on to my job, and I don't intend to do so now,” he said. “I have honor.”

Deputies then quickly voted to appoint Lieutenant General Mykhailo Koval as the new acting defense minister after his name was submitted for approval by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov.

Tuesday's session gave lawmakers a chance to voice growing frustrations with how the interim leaders have handled their jobs since being swept to power on the back of three months of deadly protests whose ultimate aim was to eliminate the corruption and Kremlin dependence that have weighed over Ukraine throughout its post-Soviet history.

“We gave up Crimea to the Russians thanks to our unprofessionalism,” independent lawmaker Igor Palytsya fumed.

“We gave up Crimea thanks to our indecision.”

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In this photo taken Monday, March 17, Ukrainian Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh pauses as he answers a question during a news conference at a hotel in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP)

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