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Head of Ukraine's navy defects to pro-Russian Crimea

UkraineArmed Forces

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, fired his new navy commander on Sunday for “high treason” after the admiral pledged allegiance to pro-Russian forces in Crimea, a Ukrainian news agency reported.

Earlier in the day, Adm. Denis Berezovsky appeared in public in Sevastopol in the company of Crimea's newly elected pro-Moscow premier, Sergei Aksenov, and pledged allegiance to his administration.

“I, Denis Berezovsky, swear an oath of allegiance to the residents of the republic of Crimea,” Berezovsky said in televised remarks. “I swear to fulfill my military duty with dignity, to bravely protect lives and freedom of the residents of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.”

Crimea is a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine that now appears to be effectively under Russian control.

Aksenov said at a briefing that he was planning to create a Crimean navy, to be headed by Berezovsky.

As heavily armed Russian commandos continue to blockade Ukrainian army and navy units in Crimea, the new development appeared to be an embarrassing setback for the nation's interim government, especially because Berezovsky was appointed head of the navy Saturday, the day before he defected.

His move came against the backdrop of a tense standoff between Russian troops who have blockaded Ukrainian army and navy forces inside their own bases and were demanding that they surrender their weapons and leave. Most were staying put.

“Four of our guard soldiers on the outside perimeter at the gate gave in and left,” Pvt. Roman Beregovoy, the duty officer at one Ukrainian army base, said in a phone interview with The Times. “We refused to give up our arsenal to the Russians and barricaded ourselves inside. Our commander is now conducting negotiations with the Russians.”

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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