MOSCOW, April 4 (RIA Novosti) – Most Ukrainian soldiers on service in Crimea voiced their wish to join the Russian Armed Forces and they were granted this opportunity, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Friday.
“As of today over 8,000 of these soldiers have submitted paperwork to get Russian passports. Around 3,000 of them have already been assigned duties. We now have to create conditions for their speedy adjustment to serving in the Russian army,” Shoigu said at an off-schedule ministerial meeting.
The Russian defense minister also stated that the Ukrainian soldiers could easily leave Crimea to return to Ukraine.
The majority of Ukrainian soldiers willing to continue serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine have left Crimea leaving behind some 400 people responsible for combat equipment withdrawal, said Vitaliy Yarema, Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister of the interim government in Kiev, as he spoke to the press on Friday. He didn’t give a specific deadline for the complete removal of troops and machinery out of Crimea.
“I cannot say for sure, as it depends on a number of factors such as the pace and transport availability and the functioning of the railroad as well. But as of today there is nothing to hinder the process,” he added.
The autonomous republic of Crimea held a referendum on March 16 to decide on the status of the autonomy. The official result of the referendum was a 97 percent vote ‘in favor’ of integrating the region into the Russian Federation with an overwhelming voter turnout of 83 percent. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed the federal law ratifying the agreement between the autonomous republic of Crimea and the Russian Federation to join Russia on March 21. Although widely denounced by the West, Russia welcomed the results of the referendum, proclaiming it fully legitimate in accordance with the international law.