MOSCOW, February 28 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday it has ordered its consulate in Crimea to speed up the issuance of passports and citizenship to members of Ukraine’s elite Berkut riot police.
“The Russian consulate in Simferopol has been instructed to take all necessary measures to start issuing Russian passports to officers of the Berkut unit,” the ministry said in its Facebook blog.
The new authorities in Kiev have disbanded the Berkut following last week’s deadly clashes between riot police and anti-government protestors that left 88 people dead and injured hundreds before Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital.
His government deployed Berkut repeatedly to contain and break up the demonstrations that began in late November, after Yanukovych’s sudden decision to abandon Ukraine’s planned association agreement with the European Union.
Berkut forces were dispatched to forcibly break up tent dwellings within days of the protests starting in Kiev’s central Independence Square, a tactical miscalculation that added impetus to the demonstrations.
Later, the feared police were frequently used as a frontline defense against radical protesters seeking to march on government buildings and came under much criticism for alleged excessive use of force towards demonstrators.
Their supporters have argued, however, that police had no choice but to adopt heavy-handed measures in facing off against rioters armed with sticks, shields, bricks, Molotov cocktails and, reportedly in some cases, lethal firearms.
Members of the disbanded Berkut received a hero’s welcome from some residents when they arrived in Crimea’s capital Simferopol at the weekend. Supporters claimed that they had been defending the country against alleged extremists in the opposition movement.