MOSCOW – Ukraine said Wednesday that it was drawing up plans for the possible evacuation of its military personnel and their families from Crimea in the wake of Moscow's decision to annex the region.
Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and sailors remain on the disputed peninsula, blockaded on their bases by Russian troops and local militia. The government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, said it was preparing to relocate as many as 25,000 people.
Andriy Parubiy, head of Ukraine's National Security Council, also announced Ukraine's plans to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Moscow-led coalition of former Soviet republics. He appealed to the United Nations to proclaim Crimea a demilitarized zone from which both Russia and Ukraine should withdraw troops.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia would reclaim the Crimean peninsula, transferred to Ukraine six decades ago while both nations were part of the Soviet Union. Putin's move followed a disputed referendum Sunday that saw the region, which has a majority population of Russian-speakers, declare its desire to become part of Russia.
A leading Ukrainian defense analyst said it was likely Russia and Ukraine would come to some arrangement to withdraw the latter's troops from Crimea.
"I think at some point soon Russia may agree to make a corridor for Ukrainian troops in Crimea to leave their units with unit flags and weapons they can carry with them as a compromise decision," said Dmitry Tymchuk, the head of the Center for Military and Political Research.
Parubiy said during a briefing in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, that his nation would begin requiring Russian citizens to apply for visas to travel to Ukraine and would seek to hold military exercises with "our allies."
"We have prepared a plan and an appeal to hold joint military exercises of the Ukrainian army and our allies, guarantors of Ukraine's security, on the territory of Ukraine," Parubiy said in televised remarks in what experts saw as an appeal for support from Western nations.
Ukraine's armed forces have been brought into a state of "full combat readiness," Parubiy said.