Ukrainian marines take part in a welcoming ceremony in Kiev after returning from a Ukrainian military base in the Crimean city of Feodosia on March 27.Gleb Garanich/Reuters
In a separate development, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday that all Ukrainian servicemen stationed in Crimea have been allowed to leave for mainland Ukraine but that 8,000 military men stayed and applied for permission to join the Russian army.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his officials said the Russian deployment to Crimea was within limits set by a deal with Ukraine on a Russian navy base in Crimea. But Moscow has never admitted that the thousands of troops who flooded the peninsula, seizing the airports and blocking the Ukrainian military at their bases, were Russian. They wore no markings, but some of them drove armored personnel carriers with Russian number plates.
Shoigu argued that Crimea faced "a threat to civilian lives and the threat of a seizure of the Russian military infrastructure by extremist organizations," so Russia "took decisive actions" and "beefed up security of Russian military infrastructure in Crimea." He stopped short of giving details, but said the military "managed to prevent bloodshed."
Shoigu also dismissed claims that the Russian army has mistreated Ukrainian servicemen as "improper and provocative." Several senior Ukrainian officers, including a military base commander, were briefly detained by the Russian forces and kept in custody for several days.