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.
Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, told Itar-Tass that all of the members of the self-defense forces will be sworn in, as it will be their duty to maintain order during the referendum on March 16.
In addition to the self-defense units, the majority of Ukrainian armed forces dispatched to Crimea have switched to the side of local authorities.
Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky – head of the Ukrainian Navy and the first person to swear allegiance to the Crimean people – was followed by the local commanders of police, emergencies ministries, border guards, and other top security officials.
Meanwhile, coup-imposed Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk has made a desperate attempt to win back the loyalty of the Ukrainian military in Crimea by promising a bonus of 125 million hryvnas (around US$13.6 million) to the servicemen “as soon as possible.”
But the announcement wasn’t welcomed by everybody in Yatsenyuk’s own Finance Ministry, which is currently experiencing a severe lack of funds.
“Due to the acute shortage of money in the treasury, we asked a question: Which expenditure item should we cut? However, no response followed,” an unnamed source in the Ukrainian Finance Ministry told Itar-Tass.
According to the source, social budget items like unemployment benefits, child allowances, and studentships are most likely to be the first to suffer if the soldiers are paid.
“But, in the current situation, these funds won’t be enough. So it’s possible that some money will be withdrawn from the Health ministry’s accounts. However, we haven’t yet been given such an order,” he added.
One of the members of the Ukrainian coup-imposed government pointed out to Itar-Tass that Yatsenyuk’s pledge to give the money to the military is rather “blurry,” as the exact dates for the move were never voiced.
He suggested that the announcement may well be aimed at diverting the attention of the military in Crimea from a more serious problem, as their allowances are the first to be frozen by Kiev.
The source also stated that according to his information, “the morale of the Ukrainian personnel in Crimea is in a depressed state. The protest moods among the servicemen are on the rise. The number of defectors is growing.”
“The military hasn’t been paid for over a month. There are also food shortages,” the unnamed minister stressed.