Volunteers from self-defense units are taking an oath of allegiance to the people of Crimea as the autonomous republic puts together its own military in order to respond to possible provocations from the coup-imposed government in Kiev.
Around 180 Crimean citizens have already joined the local army, as oaths were taken in the republic’s capital of Sevastopol on Monday and Saturday.
All of the recruits were “carefully checked because they will be handed weapons,” Aleksandr Bochkarev, head of the Crimean self-defense forces, told RIA-Novosti.
“They have already proven themselves in the people’s militia of Crimea. Each of them had previously served either in the military or in the law enforcement agencies. All of them are fit for military service and possess the necessary skills,” he said.
The ceremony took place in front of the eternal flame in a Simferopol park named after the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin.
According to Bochkarev, similar oaths will take place in the Crimean peninsula on a regular basis.
“We’re shaping up our own armed forces now,” the commander stressed. “After the referendum (on Crimea’s fate as part of Ukraine) – if the affiliation with Russia begins – some of the guys will remain in service, but some will, possibly, want to quit or won’t fit on some criteria.”
The 1,500 Crimean citizens that currently make up the Crimean self-defense forces “isn’t much, but we don’t need more,” he said.
“New people call or come every time, asking to recruit them into the self-defense units, but for now we only gather contact information and send everybody home,” Bochkarev explained.
NATO to deploy jets to monitor Ukraine border
NATO said it will deploy Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) reconnaissance aircraft to overfly Poland and Romania to monitor the Ukrainian crisis.
It gave the go-ahead for the flights on Monday, a NATO spokesman said.
“All AWACS reconnaissance flights will take place solely over alliance territory,” the official said.
“This decision is an appropriate and responsible action in line with NATO’s decision to intensify our ongoing assessment of the implications of this crisis for Alliance security,” the official added.
The AWACS will fly missions from their home base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, where 17 are housed, and from Waddington in Britain.
The AWACS aircraft are one of the most sophisticated command and control vehicles in the NATO armory, capable of monitoring huge swathes of airspace.
The situation in Ukraine is close to financial and humanitarian catastrophe after the armed coup which took place in February. There are mass protests in eastern and southern parts of the country against the self-proclaimed authorities in Kiev.
The situation risks becoming more difficult if Crimea votes in a March 16 referendum to break all links with Kiev and become part of Russia.