Truce Ends, Ukraine Troops Withdraw From Crimea

Belbek Airbase Holds Out, Claiming no Orders from Kiev

by Jason Ditz, March 21, 2014

The truce between Russian and Ukrainian Defense Ministries expired today, and so did Russia’s promise not to take action against Ukrainian soldiers on Crimean soil, which after the annexation is now officially Russian soil as well.

There was no rush to battle, however, as Ukrainian troops by and large followed orders, packing their bags and withdrawing back into the Ukraine, taking their families with them.

Not everyone is on the way out, however, as many of the troops at Belbek Air Base remain at their posts, carrying visibly unloaded weapons. They claimed radio silence, with no formal orders from Kiev on whether or not to withdraw, and are waiting to be taken over officially by the Russian military so they can leave.

How many troops this pullout will involve is unclear, as military analysts say Ukraine had 8,000 to 10,000 troops in the Crimea, while Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claims over 20,000 deployed there. Of that number, at least some have defected to the Russian side, primarily those who lived in Crimea to begin with, and Russia has been courting such defections with a much higher rate of pay and better benefits than Ukraine’s own military offers.

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