SIMFEROPOL – Ukraine’s autonomous region of Crimea confirmed Sunday that the majority of Ukrainian military units stationed on the Crimean peninsula have expressed their support of legitimately elected Pro-Russian authorities.
Earlier reports by Russian media about peaceful takeover of the military units by forces loyal to the Crimean government were denied by the Ukrainian defense ministry.
However, Crimean authorities said that most of the Ukrainian units sided on Sunday with pro-Russian forces “without a single shot fired,” and warned the commanders of a few units that remain loyal to Kiev that they would face criminal action if refused to surrender.
“I would like to warn commanders who force their subordinates to commit illegal actions that they will be punished according to existing laws,” Crimea’s Prime Minister Sergei Aksenov said in a statement.
The Crimean government said earlier that some 10 warships from the Ukrainian navy left their naval base in Sevastopol apparently on orders from Kiev.
Crimea is now at the center of the ongoing crisis in the country as pro-Russia groups move to distance themselves from a reformed national parliament that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych a week ago.
The current developments come shortly after Russia’s upper house of parliament unanimously approved a request from President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to deploy military forces in Ukraine’s mainly ethnic Russian-populated region of Crimea.
Putin issued his request in response to what he said was a threat to the lives of Russian citizens and military forces located in naval bases around the Crimean peninsula.
Putin, who is the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces, has not yet ordered the deployment of a “limited military contingent” in Ukraine, but said in telephone conversations with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US President Barack Obama early on Sunday that Moscow reserved the right to protect its own interests and those of Russian speakers in the event of violence breaking out in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.