President Vladimir Putin has ordered all weapons and hardware left by the Ukrainian military after Crimea’s accession to Russia to be returned to Ukraine.
The Russian President, who is also the commander-in-chief of the military forces, gave the order to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu at a rank-conferring ceremony in Moscow on Friday. The order concerns weapons, and military hardware including aircraft and ships.
Shoigu reported that Ukrainian units stationed in Crimea who had not wished to come over to the Russian side had left Crimean territory.
The minister added that the flags and symbols on all the ships that remained in Crimea were changed to Russian. “We have not allowed any acts of desecration and disrespect towards Ukrainian state emblems,” the official added.
After the overwhelming majority of people in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation earlier this month the Ukrainian servicemen stationed on the peninsula were given the choice of swearing allegiance to the new authorities or leave for Ukraine. The Ukrainian military bases were taken under the control of security forces because of fears the weapons could fall into the hands of Ukrainian radicals.
A source in the Black Sea Fleet HQ told the RIA Novosti news agency that Russia intended to take over about 30 combat ships and support vessels that belonged to the Ukrainian Navy. However, the source added that this would be done only after a thorough inspection of the ships’ condition. On March 26 all 193 former Ukrainian military bases and institutions in Crimea flew Russian flags.
Also on Friday, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia had initiated the severing of its treaties with Ukraine on the division and status of the Black Sea fleet.
According to the 1997 agreement Russia received a part of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and started renting the naval base of Sevastopol from Ukraine. In 2010 the treaty was renewed and the two nations agreed that the Russian Naval base in Sevastopol would remain for an additional 25 years starting May 2017. Russia paid $100 million a year in basic rent and also agreed natural gas price discounts.
To annul the agreement either side must inform the other side about this intention at least one year ahead.
However, after Crimea chose to join Russia the renting agreement became obsolete. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier said that the failure to end the Sevastopol rental agreement could cost Russia up to $11 billion.