Ukraine’s interim leaders yesterday established a new National Guard and appealed to the US and Britain for assistance against what they called Russian aggression in Crimea under a post-Cold War treaty.
Blaming their ousted predecessors for the weakness of their own armed forces, acting ministers told parliament that Ukraine had as few as 6,000 combat-ready infantry and that the air force was outnumbered nearly 100 to 1 by Moscow’s superpower forces.
There was no let-up in the war of words, with the pro-Russian regional parliament in Crimea approving a declaration of independence that will take effect if people on the Crimean Peninsula vote to unite with Russia in a referendum on Sunday.
The national parliament in Kiev said it would dissolve the Crimean assembly if it did not cancel the plebiscite.
Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych yesterday insisted from his refuge in Russia that he was still Ukraine’s legitimate president and commander-in-chief, saying he would return to Kiev and appealing to the armed forces to defy any “criminal orders” handed down by his foes.
In a defiant statement, Yanukovych attacked what he called the “band of ultranationalists and neo-fascists” that have replaced his government, and criticized their Western backers.
“I want to ask the patrons of these dark forces in the West: Have you gone blind? Have you forgotten what fascism is?” Yanukovych told reporters in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov said the National Security and Defense Council had decided to raise a new National Guard among veterans, although he warned against provoking Russian action, saying that would play into Moscow’s hands.
The National Guard, based on existing Ministry of the Interior forces, would “defend citizens from criminals and from internal or external aggression,” he said.
Meanwhile, acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said that a 1994 treaty under which Ukraine agreed to give up its Soviet nuclear weapons obliged Russia to remove troops from Crimea and also obliged Western powers to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.
He said a failure to protect Ukraine would undermine efforts to persuade Iran or North Korea to forswear nuclear weapons as Kiev did 20 years ago.
The parliament passed a resolution calling on the US and Britain, co-signatories with Russia of that treaty to “fulfill their obligations ... and take all possible diplomatic, political, economic and military measures urgently to end the aggression and preserve the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine.”
NATO AWACs surveillance planes were beginning flights over Poland and Romania yesterday to monitor events in Ukraine and the US Navy was preparing for exercises in the Black Sea with NATO allies Bulgaria and Romania over the next few days.
The military exercises had been planned before the Ukrainian crisis began.
In other developments, the main airport in Crimea yesterday canceled incoming flights from Kiev, but allowed several planes from Moscow to land.
A Ukrainian airline plane was turned back on its way from Kiev to Simferopol, the region’s main city, and returned to the capital.
Airport passenger information also showed an incoming flight from Istanbul, Turkey, had been canceled.