Teniukh: Ukrainian servicemen won't leave Crimea – this is our land
An exclusive Interfax-Ukraine interview with acting Defense Minister of Ukraine Ihor Teniukh
Question: What is your assessment of the preparedness of the Ukrainian army at this moment, particularly the state of military equipment and weaponry?
Answer: The preparedness of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has already considerably changed compared to what it was two weeks ago. Due to the events in the Crimea and on the eastern borders of the country, a number of decisions to appropriately prepare the Armed Forces to fulfill their obligations have been made, with the government's assistance. You know that on March 3, all of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were put on the highest level of alert – "full combat alert." All servicemen are working on the fulfillment of their tasks and training goals according to schedule.
On Friday [March 14], the commander-in-chief had a chance to check the preparedness of one of the military bases, the soldiers of which showed their capability and cohesion in the fulfillment of their tasks. Thus, as of today the preparedness of the Ukrainian Armed Forces corresponds to the threats at the eastern borders and in Crimea. Of course, there's still a lot to do, particularly to replenish equipment resources. The government, state and the Ukrainian people are working on it right now. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are ready to fulfill the task that they are facing right now.
Question: What is the reason for the deployment of the military equipment – is it a military exercise or reinforcement of positions on the Ukrainian borders?
Answer: Of course, the Armed Forces must appropriately react to the challenges of the current situation. That's why according to the exercise plans; the Armed Forces went to places where exercises are conducted, and continue to assume positions that are [not just] important for the reinforcement of the borders, but equally important for the Armed Forces' ability to fulfill their tasks.
That's why our Armed Forces are concentrated in the necessary regions, from east to south.
Question: Do you think it's necessary to declare martial law in the state in current conditions?
Answer: We closely follow all the movements of Russian troops, especially in the Crimea and at the eastern borders. We possess comprehensive and exhaustive information on the number of units that are already gathering into groups subject to the Russian Federation, both at the eastern borders and in Crimea. As of today, there has been created a defense group in Crimea, which consists of up to 22,000 Russian servicemen. As far back as yesterday there were 18,400 men in it, i.e. we have witnessed an increase of the numbers of Russian troops in the Crimea. Thus, appropriate measures are being taken by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the regions of the southern borders as well.
Russia has violated international law and the bilateral agreement on the location of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea. According to the framework agreements, a headcount of the Russian Black Sea Fleet as of January 1 of every year is to be reported by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Well, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry as of January 1, 2014, the headcount of the Black Sea Fleet amounted to 12,500 servicemen. Unfortunately, during a very short term, this number has increased from 12,500 to 22,000. This outrageous violation of the bilateral agreement between Russian and Ukraine is evidence that Russia has illegally brought its military units into the Crimea.
Question: There's going to be a referendum in the Crimea on March 16. What will happen to the servicemen after this referendum, as there's a local army being formed in Crimea?
Answer: First of all, I want to say that the illegal referendum, which [Crimean authorities] are trying to hold at the barrel of a gun in Crimea, is not recognized by any state in the world. It hasn't been recognized by the Ukrainian parliament, authorities and people as well. And the status of that group of unidentified people who call themselves Crimean government is illegal. Thus, the servicemen in the Crimea will precisely follow the laws and the regulations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They represent the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian authorities, so we will not leave Crimea, as this is our land.
The course of further actions depends on the decision made by the political leadership of the state. But even today every battalion chief, Ukrainian Naval Command and command of military bases and units of the Ukrainian Air Force located in Crimea have clear instructions on what to do in any situation. Thus, the decisions will be made based on the development of the events. But I will emphasize once again that this land is ours and we won't leave it. The illegal actions of Russia must be stopped, first of all, in a peaceful and democratic way. Russia must recall its military units in Crimea and bring back the soldiers of the Black Sea Fleet to the places of their permanent garrison, which are established by the framework agreements between Ukraine and Russia.
Question: Is the Headquarters of Ukrainian Navy to remain in Sevastopol?
Answer: The Headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy is and will be located in Sevastopol. The Headquarters of the Western Naval Base is in Odesa, where the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny is stationed right now. Thus, we aren't preparing for a relocation of the headquarters, as there will be none. Right now the ships are located at the places of permanent deployment, but they are being blocked by the Russian army. Meetings on the release of the ships were conducted on multiple occasions between the commander of the Ukrainian Navy Serhiy Haiduk and both Russian Black Sea Fleet Command and Russian Navy Command. These negotiations are being conducted right now, and I hope that this issue will be solved in the context of the solution for all the political problems.
Question: How is the mobilization of those liable for military service conducted?
Answer: Due to the Ukrainian Army being put into "full combat alert," the appropriate measures are being taken by Ukrainian military basis and command. A number of the servicemen has already been called for duty on contract basis.
You also know of the Ukrainian parliament's resolution to create the National Guard, which is a very strong message in this situation. A large number of our citizens and patriots are going to the commissariats with strong morale and the intention to join the ranks of the National Guard – this is a very good example of our people's patriotism.
I think that both newly created National Guard and the Ukrainian Armed Forces will fulfill their tasks as protectors of independency and integrity of Ukrainian borders, according to the Constitution.
Question: How many people have already signed up for the National Guard?
Answer: A few days ago the number of people, who have already volunteered and signed up in the commissariats, amounted to over 40,000. Right now, they are being called for duty and located in the military bases that will be formed as a part of the National Guard.
Question: What do you think the Ukrainian Army will do next in case of the conflict's escalation?
Answer: The Ukrainian Armed Forces exist to protect the state from any aggressor and from any direction. That's why we're ready for it and keep increasing our efforts. The Ukrainian Armed Forces will fulfill their constitutional duty, particularly – they will protect Ukraine. No aggressor will dare set foot on our land.
Question: Are you in contact with Russian Defense Minister?
Answer: I am. On multiple occasions, I have called him and it's been a very "pleasant" experience to ask him the question "What are illegal military formations, which have been sent to the Crimean territory, doing?" and hear the following answer "We don't know anything at all. Those aren't our servicemen; we do not have troops their at all." It is ridiculous to hear such things and when I specifically named the numbers of the brigades, battalions and military bases, I received the following response "We'll think about it." Of course this was a dishonest answer from the defense minister [of Russia].
The chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who has been in contact with his Russian counterpart on numerous occasions, has received the same answer. It was exactly the same "There are no Russian troops except for the Black Sea Fleet there." Thus, they are preparing their own plans and we are – ours.