Ukraine has ordered its troops to withdraw from Crimea after Russia seized and annexed the peninsula in response to the fall of the Ukrainian government last month.
Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, told top legislators that both servicemen and their families would now be relocated to the mainland.
“The national security and defence council has reached a decision, under instructions from the defence ministry, to conduct a redeployment of military units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” Turchynov said in nationally televised remarks.
“The cabinet of ministers has instructions to resettle the families of soldiers as well as everyone else who today is forced to leave their homes under the pressure and aggression of the Russian army’s occupying forces.”
Al Jazeera’s Nick Spicer, reporting from Crimea’s capital Simferopol, said the Russians were moving “quicky to streamline the local adminitstration along Russian lines”.
Crimea’s pro-Kremlin deputy premier Rustam Temirgaliyev told Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency that “all Ukrainian soldiers have either switched to the Russian side or are leaving the territory of the Crimea”.
In the Hague, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met for the first time on the sidelines of a two-day nuclear summit to discuss the crisis that has grown into one of the gravest security challenges to Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Sergei Lavrov outlined to his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsia the steps his country needs to take to defuse the crises, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The order for troops to leave Crimea came less than a month after Putin won authorisation to use force in response to the February 22 ousting of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovich by an oppostion seeking a closer alliance with Europe.
Ukraine’s increasingly demoralised forces had been steadily losing ground on the Black Sea peninsula and saw their main airbase outside Simferopol stormed on Saturday.
The assault by Russian troops and pro-Kremlin militias continued on Monday with the fall of a Ukrainian naval base in the east Crimean port of Feodosia.
Turchynov praised his country’s soldiers despite heavy criticism by some Crimean commanders of confusion and indecision reigning among the army and naval commanders in Kiev over the past month.
“Despite the enormous losses, the Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea did their duty,” said Turchynov.
The developments came as Barack Obama, the US president, began a day of delicate diplomacy on Monday as he sought to rally the international community around efforts to isolate Russia following its incursion into Ukraine.
Hours after arriving in the Netherlands for the nuclear summit, Obama held one-on-one talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China has often sided with Russia in disputes with the West, but US officials have been appealing to Beijing’s well-known opposition to outside interference in other nation’s domestic affairs.
Obama treaded carefully in statements with Xi before their meeting, saying only that they planned to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
He added that he and the Chinese leader would also seek to “work through frictions that exist in our relations” on matters like human rights and maritime disputes.
Xi, for his part, pointed to areas of potential cooperation with the US as he settled in for what Obama described as a wide-ranging session.
“It is like a menu and a rich one at that,” Xi said through an interpreter.
Leaders of the Group of Seven nations, meeting without Russia, agreed to hold their own summit this year instead of attending a planned G8 meeting in the Russian Olympic venue of Sochi, along the Black Sea coast from Crimea, and to suspend their participation in the G8 until Russia changes course.
Russia was admitted to the larger group in 1998 after it chose a democratic post-Soviet course.