Ukraine Starts Military Exercises as Russia Warns on East


Military-ExercisesUkraine began military drills as Russian forces tightened their hold on the Crimean peninsula and the Foreign Ministry in Moscow warned of “lawlessness” in the former Soviet republic’s eastern provinces.

Ukraine’s armed forces are testing the combat-readiness of troops, the Defense Ministry said today on its website, reiterating the government’s desire for a peaceful end to the standoff in Crimea. Russia, which has vowed to defend the ethnic Russians that dominate Crimea after an uprising in Kiev, accused Ukraine of ignoring radicals in the nation’s east.

Russia is wresting control of Crimea, home to its Black Sea Fleet, from Ukraine following last month’s ouster of the former Soviet republic’s Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukraine says its neighbor has almost 19,000 soldiers in the region, which will vote on joining Russia on March 16. The crisis is the worst between Russia and the West since theCold War, with the European Union and the U.S. imposing sanctions.

“Today what’s important for Ukraine is to mobilize the attention of world powers to avert the country’s disintegration,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in a televised news conference at a navy base in Siemirowice.

Ukraine sent troops to training grounds after claiming Russian soldiers seized a missile unit at Chornomorskoe in Crimea. Ukraine’s border service said Russian forces control 13 border bases and the ferry crossing across the Kerch Strait to Russia.

Attempted Capture

Russian soldiers opened fire with automatic weapons in an attempt to capture a Ukrainian motorized battalion near the southern Crimean town of Bakhchisaray, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing an unnamed representative of the Ukrainian battalion’s command. There were no injuries, Interfax said.

Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said his country could hold a dialogue about more rights and powers for Crimea, but not “under muzzles of Russian guns,” according to a statement on his government’s website.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had postponed a visit to Russia to discuss ways of easing the crisis. Russia has drawn up its own proposals in response to proposals put forward by Kerry at the end of last week, Lavrov said at a meeting with Putin in the southern Russian resort of Sochi. The Russian ideas would take into account the interests of “all Ukrainians without exception,” Lavrov said.

Market Reaction

The yield on Ukrainian government Eurobonds due 2023 rose 10 basis points to 10.219 percent today. The hryvnia was unchanged at 9.235 per dollar, The currency has slumped 10.8 percent this year.

A Ukrainian colonel was detained yesterday by pro-Russia activists, Radio Liberty said today, without citing anyone. Russian forces planted minefields in the Kherson region, north of Crimea, and began to install border markers between the two regions, the Khersonskie Vesti news website reported yesterday.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said gunmen shot at “peaceful demonstrators” in the eastern city of Kharkiv at the weekend and accused the West of a “shameful silence” over events in the surrounding area. The region is the homeland of Yanukovych, who fled to Moscow after three months of anti-government protests that killed at least 100 people.

Khodorkovsky Plea

Former Yukos Oil Co. owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in jail in Russia for tax evasion and fraud before being pardoned by Putin in December, called today on the West to provide financial aid to Ukraine as security against Russia.

“What is needed is a Marshall Plan for Ukraine,” referring to the post-World War II aid program intended to bolster economies and fight against Soviet communism.

Yanukovych, whose claim to be Ukraine’s rightful president is backed by Russia, will speak tomorrow in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, the state-run Ria Novosti news service reported.

Crimea residents will be given the choice between Russian and Ukrainian passports if the peninsula votes to join Russia, Ria Novosti said, citing Crimean Premier Sergey Aksenov. The region will have two official languages, Russian and Crimean Tatar, he said.

While Russia probably won’t invade eastern Ukraine, it may test the region’s loyalties, according to Katri Pynnoniemi, an analyst at the Helsinki-based Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Russia’s strategy on eastern Ukraine is “not to split this region off but to make it more independent from Kiev so there’s a possibility of closer links with Moscow,” Pynnoniemi said by e-mail. “The only option Russia has, and we know they’re discussing it, is to pressure Kiev into a stronger federalization of Ukraine.”