Ukraine to hold joint military exercises with U.S. and Britain after announcing troop withdrawal from Crimea
Ukraine asked Britain for military support last night amid growing fears that Russia is set to launch a fresh land grab in Eastern Europe.
The embattled nation’s security chief Andriy Parubiy called for joint military exercises with the United States and Britain to deter Russia from seizing the rest of Eastern Ukraine.
He said Ukraine will hold manoeuvres with the two Western nations following the annexation of Crimea.
The Ministry of Defence said Britain ‘routinely’ holds military exercises with Ukraine. Planning is going ahead for one exercise – codenamed Rapid Trident 14 – to be held near Lviv, close to the Polish border in western Ukraine, in July. An MoD insider said: ‘This is nothing to do with the current situation in Ukraine and it is not an exercise in, “Right, let’s go and practice battering the Russians.”
Mr Parubiy said he wanted to move them ‘quickly and effciently’ to mainland Ukraine. Immediately after the Sevastopol base was seized heavily-armed men wearing unmarked uniforms began guarding it. Alexsandr Vitko, commander of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet, later strode in to cheers from the crowd. Ukraine demanded the release of Admiral Serhiy Hayduk, its navy chief, who was reported to have been detained in the incident. ‘There was nothing we could do,’ said a Ukrainian officer. ‘Everything happened spontaneously.’ As Ukrainian troops started leaving in civilian clothing a self-appointed spokesman for the pro-Russian militia, Igor Yeskin, said raids on other military bases would continue because ‘the Ukrainian military is on the territory of the Russian Federation’.
At least one other base was seized as Russia tightened the noose following President Putin’s annexation of Crimea. A few hours earlier a confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militia left two dead in the Crimean capital Simferopol – the first military blood spilt in the three-week conflict.
Any involvement in military activities now will be seen as sucking Britain deeper into the crisis. The Mail understands defence chiefs have also put a squadron of ground troops on standby for operations in the Baltic States as tensions escalate. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond revealed this week the UK had offered RAF Typhoon fighter jets to support NATO air policing over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The RAF’s has put 120 troops serving with the RAF Regiment’s 2 Squadron on high readiness to deploy with the Typhoons to provide ‘airfield protection’ on foreign airfields.
Russia yesterday threatened to retaliate with sanctions of its own after the EU and US slapped travel bans and asset freezes on senior Russian politicians and military figures involved in the seizure of Crimea. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: ‘We are looking at a broad range of responsive measures.
‘There is also the possibility of passing asymmetrical measures, that means steps which, let’s say won’t go unnoticed in Washington.’ David Cameron said Britain would lead calls for tougher sanctions when he attends a Brussels summit of the 28 European Union leaders on Thursday. The Prime Minister told the Commons the Crimean referendum had been ‘spatchcocked’ together in the space of 10 days ‘at the point of a Russian Kalashnikov’ – and called for Russia to be kicked out of the G8 group of nations. He added: ‘I also think we should be responding to the fact of this annexation. We said that if there was further action to destabilise the Ukraine, and this annexation is that action, further consequences need to follow.’
On Friday, Mr Cameron will call on fellow EU leaders to draw up plans for greater energy security in Europe. Britain has circulated a document in Brussels calling for greater diversity of supply to ‘reduce the dependency on Russian energy’. On the home front, the Office for Budget Responsibility warned the Ukraine crisis could harm the UK economy if the situation deteriorated, with the potential for commodity price increases affecting industry and increasing inflation.
The Treasury’s Budget Red Book said the crisis was a ‘significant new risk’ to the economic recovery and ‘any further deterioration is likely to have some impact on the UK’. In documents released alongside the Budget, the OBR said: ‘If the situation escalates or continues for a prolonged period, there is a risk of higher commodity prices affecting inflation and output growth.’
Last night the Prime Minister spoke on the telephone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to agree a strategy for the summit today. A No 10 spokesman said: ‘They reiterated that Sunday’s referendum in Crimea and Russia’s subsequent actions to annex Crimea are both illegal and agreed that the EU should impose further consequences on Russia, building on the travel bans and asset freezes agreed by European foreign ministers on Monday.’ But Whitehall sources suggested that the EU response will stop short of the swingeing economic sanctions that might hit the Putin regime in its pockets.
With fears that Russia could grab more territory, US vice president Joe Biden sought to reassure the three ex-Soviet Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that the US will defend any NATO member against aggression.’ We’re in this with you, together,’ he said in Vilnius, amid jitters in three countries overrun by Stalin during the Second World War which only won their freedom with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Accusing Russia of a ‘land grab’, Mr Biden said Russia was on a ‘dark path’ to isolation. ‘We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression,’ he added. But Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite warned him Vladimir Putin’s annexing of Crimea showed ‘the use of brute force to redraw the map of Europe’, adding: ‘This situation is a direct threat to our regional security.’
This came amid reports of FSB secret services agents flooding into Transdniestria, a breakaway pro-Moscow region of ex-Soviet state Moldova which shares a border with Ukraine. In recent days the leadership of the region – where Russian troops are believed to be on the ground – has signaled their wish to be integrated into Russia, like Crimea.
The Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov, meanwhile, openly urged the Kremlin to go deeper into Ukraine to ‘protect’ ethnic Russians. ‘The surge in patriotism we are witnessing in Crimea and Russia, which has united everyone irrespective of political views, convictions and political parties, shall spread farther, into southeastern Ukraine,’ he said. Russians in these areas ‘have fixed their eyes on us, they are hopeful and they expect our support and assistance. People truly need this,’ he insisted.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was ‘deeply concerned’ over the spiraling crisis and urged all sides to ‘take all possible steps to avoid further escalation’, while Nikolai Petrov, professor at the Higher Economic School in Moscow, forecast ‘a new Cold War’.
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