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Ukraine Plans to Pull Military Out of Crimea

Russian flags decorate a vehicle as pro-Russian soldiers stand outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalne, Ukraine, Monday, March 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Ukraine's fledgling government in Kiev announced plans to pull all 25,000 of its military personnel out of Crimea, effectively ceding the peninsula to Russia.

Russian troops and militia backers seized Ukraine's navy headquarters in Crimea Wednesday as the U.S. and NATO considered beefing up military exercises in Eastern Europe.

In response, the U.S. is reviewing Ukraine's request for "a range of military equipment and supplies," a Pentagon spokesman said. Thus far, the U.S. has only committed to sending the Ukrainians MREs, the packaged Meals Ready to Eat.

"We are exploring additional ways to enhance our cooperation" with the Baltic states and other Eastern European allies in already scheduled military exercises in the coming months, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

The U.S. would also continue with scheduled naval exercises in the Black Sea, Warren said.

The U.S. has already increased the number of U.S. aircraft in regular NATO air patrols from four F-15 fighters to 10 over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and increased the number of F-16 aircraft assigned to a previously planned training exercise with the Polish air force.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance has received a number of requests from Ukraine for military assistance. 

"I agree we should step up assistance to Ukraine and I'm sure it will happen," Rasmussen said at a Brookings Institute forum in Washington.

"The Russian behavior must have consequences," Rasmussen said of Russian President Vladimir Putin's moves to annex Crimea. "We can't continue business as usual," Rasmussen said. 

Putin had defied international law in an attempt to "redraw the map of Europe" Rasmussen said.

Earlier in Sevastopol, masked Russian-speaking troops seized control over Ukraine's naval headquarters and detained a Ukrainian navy commander. Ukrainian sailors put up no resistance and left the building carrying their belongings in plastic bags.

The seizure of the naval headquarters came a day after a confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militiamen that left two dead.

As he left the naval offices, a Ukrainian sailor wearing a lieutenant's chevrons told Agence France Presse that "we have been temporarily disbanded and everyone now has to make a choice" on whether to leave Crimea or serve the new pro-Moscow government.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.

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