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Ukraine Says It's Preparing A Plan To Withdraw From Crimea

Armed men stood atop a chimney near Ukraine's naval headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, on Wednesday. They raised Russian flags after taking over much of the facility.
Vasily Fedosenko
Reuters /Landov
Armed men stood atop a chimney near Ukraine's naval headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, on Wednesday. They raised Russian flags after taking over much of the facility.

This post was last updated at 4:50 p.m.

A day after Russia claimed Crimea as its own, Ukraine's security chief said they were drawing up plans to withdraw troops and their families from the area.

The BBC reports Andriy Parubiy said during a press conference that Ukraine wanted to move the troops "quickly and efficiently" to mainland Ukraine and that they would also ask the United Nations to declare Crimea a demilitarized zone.

That would mean that Russia would also have to move its troops out of the area, but it's unclear whether that would ever happen.

The New York Times reads Parubiy's statement as the effective "surrender of Crimea, at least from a military standpoint."

"Ukraine is also leaving the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) alliance, and is preparing for military exercises with the U.S. and the U.K.," the BBC reports.

A Pentagon official, however, tells NPR's Tom Bowman that "nothing imminent is being planned."

President Obama also made it clear that the country was not planning any military action against Russia.

"We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine," Obama said in an interview with KNSD-TV. " I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge that for us to engage Russia militarily would not be appropriate and would not be good for Ukraine either."

Instead Obama said the U.S. would "mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we've got a strong international coalition that sends a strong message."

Of course all of this comes on the heels of another potentially dangerous situation that developed earlier today, when Russian flags were raised at Ukraine's naval headquarters in the port of Sevastopol.

NPR's Gregory Warner, who is in Sevastopol, reports that a large group of armed men entered the base early Wednesday. It couldn't immediately be confirmed whether they were members of a pro-Russia militia, Russian soldiers or perhaps a combination of the two. As of midday in Crimea, there were no reports of shots being fired. CBS News writes that "the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was seen arriving at the base for talks. Ukrainian sailors were seen filing out of the base shortly after, carrying bags full of their belongings."

This follows Tuesday's shooting at a Ukrainian military base near the Crimean city of Simferopol. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and another was wounded. It isn't clear who fired the shots, but Crimean officials have said they believe it was members of a local militia group and that some of them have been taken into custody by Russian soldiers.

On Tuesday Russia also moved to annex Crimea — an act that Ukraine's new government and its allies from the U.S. and European Union say they won't recognize and that has prompted sanctions aimed at hurting some Russian officials financially.

As Gregory adds, Russian officials have given the Ukrainian military a deadline of Friday to pull out of Crimea or defect and join the Russian army. It isn't clear what will happen if Ukraine doesn't comply.

As the crisis in Ukraine has developed over recent weeks, we've tracked developments. Here's a recap:

Crimea has been the focus of attention as the ripple effects of the protests that led to last month's ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have spread.

Summing up the history and importance of Crimea to Russia and Ukraine isn't possible in just a few sentences, of course. The Parallels blog, though, has published several posts that contain considerable context:

-- Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine's Latest Hot Spot

-- Crimea: A Gift To Ukraine Becomes A Political Flash Point

-- Why Ukraine Is Such A Big Deal For Russia

We've recapped what set off months of protest in Kiev and ultimately led to Yanukovych's dismissal by his nation's parliament last month this way:

"The protests were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters were also drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption."

It was after Yanukovych left Kiev and headed for the Russian border that troops moved to take control of strategic locations in Crimea.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.