Poltorak says he has nothing to do with decision to withdraw forces from Crimea in March 2014
Ukraine's Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, who in March 2014 was National Guard of Ukraine commander, has said he took no decisions at the March 23, 2014 National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) meeting regarding the withdrawal of forces from Crimea. Poltorak said at the time he was not even a member of the council.
"I don't know to what extent the protocol of testimony provided by former Ukrainian Armed Forces chief Ihor Teniukh corresponds with reality. In my opinion, Teniukh was so frightened at the time he did not understand where he was, who he was, and who was responsible for doing what…. As far as ordering the pull out of Ukrainian forces from Crimea, I was the acting head of the National Guard, not a member of the council," Poltorak said on Wednesday in an interview with the 112.ua TV channel.
Earlier, lawyer of the disgraced former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Vitaliy Serdiuk, reportedly said in testimony that the decision to surrender Crimea to Russia was made on March 23, 2014.
"I don't know how I could have influenced the course of events. I was not authorized to decide these questions," Poltorak said.
Former acting Ukrainian Defense Minister (from February 27 through March 25, 2014) Admiral Ihor Teniukh in testimony during the state treason trial of disgraced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych has said the final decision on withdrawing Ukrainian troops from Crimea without resisting Russian invasion forces was made at a meeting of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) on March 23, 2014.
"After navy headquarters was seized, the NSDC on March 23, 2014, reported the situation in Crimea and the results with the deployment of Ukraine's Armed Forces in the Shyroky Lan district. I forcefully argued to continue efforts to deploy into Crimea. In response, then Presidential Administration head Serhiy Pashynsky said the following: "Everything is clear with the Defense Ministry. It wants war. Let's listen to other members of the council." Next to speak was Stepan Poltorak, who was in charge of the National Guard of Ukraine. He said the following verbatim: "I recommend withdrawing our units from Crimea and holding our heads high," Teniukh said, according to excerpts of the protocol of his interview posted to the Facebook page of Yanukovych's lawyer, Vitaliy Serdiuk.
The protocol also contains testimony about the NSDC meeting on February 28, 2014, when ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and then acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk blocked proposals to use Ukrainian military forces to defend Crimea.
"After I broached the subject of deploying military forces, Tymoshenko strongly opposed the proposal, saying I did not understand the situation and that confrontation would provoke Russia and that it was necessary to look not only at Crimea but to keep the entire Ukraine in focus. Yatsenyuk supported Tymoshenko," Teniukh said, according to the protocol. Teniukh proposed reviewing military contingency plans, but no one at the meeting took him up on the offer.
"I told the heads of the Ukrainian SBU, military intelligence, General Staff and Interior Ministry that it was necessary to create a government commission, representatives from which should fly to Crimea and from there manage the processes taking place on the peninsula. In response, Yatsenyuk said it was a bad idea because these representatives would be arrested," Teniukh was quoted as saying.
Teniukh confirmed that he urged deploying Ukrainian military forces to the southern, northern and eastern Ukraine, but no one supported the proposals.
Serdiuk posted to his Facebook page part of the interview with Teniukh, but the dates of when the interview took place are not indicated.