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Ukraine's parliament ousts defense minister

Ukraine's parliament ousts defense minister
MGN Online
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 6:39am

Ukraine's parliament dismissed the defense minister Tuesday, a day after Ukraine's military was ordered to leave Crimea as Russian forces consolidated control of the Black Sea peninsula.

Ihor Tenyukh's dismissal was initiated by acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, though the reason wasn't immediately given. Parliament appointed Col. Gen. Myhaylo Koval as Tenyukh's replacement.

Tenyuh was Ukraine's acting defense minister as troops wearing uniforms without insignia, which the West said were Russian forces, surrounded Ukrainian bases in Crimea this month. Russia annexed Crimea last week after a controversial referendum that Ukraine and the West say was illegal.

Russian troops have seized most of Ukraine's bases in the peninsula.

The new leaders in Kiev -- who took office after months of protests forced pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych from office -- say Crimea is still a part of Ukraine.

Russia insists its actions are legitimate. Crimea had belonged to Russia until 1954 when it was given to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The region also has a majority ethnic Russian population and other long historic ties to Russia.

Moscow has doggedly pursued its own course, even as Western leaders have denounced its actions as violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and a breach of international law.

Diplomacy at The Hague

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders decided to end Russia's role in G8, the group of leading industrialized nations.

Obama arrived at The Hague, the Netherlands, for a G7 summit on threats to nuclear security. The G7 is a group of the world's seven wealthiest industrialized nations.

"International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state's territory through coercion or force," the White House said in a statement. "To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine's Constitution."

Earlier, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said being kicked out of G8 would be no big deal. However, the Kremlin said Tuesday it was keen to maintain contact with G8 partners.

"As for the contacts with the G8 countries, we are ready for them, we are interested in them, but the unwillingness of other countries to continue the dialogue, in our view, is counterproductive both for us and our partners," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia's state Itar-Tass news agency.

Ahead of the G7 gathering, a representative for British Prime Minister David Cameron said that no G8 meeting would take place in Russia this year as previously planned.

The G7 had already suspended preparations for a planned G8 summit in the Russian city of Sochi. Monday's comment by Cameron's representative ruling out the meeting altogether comes as the West tries to increase Moscow's isolation over its actions in Ukraine.

A planned EU-Russia summit also has been canceled.

EU leaders imposed a new round of sanctions against 12 people last week, bringing the total number of people facing EU asset freezes and travel bans to 33.

The United States announced its own new round of sanctions against 20 people and a bank that U.S. officials say is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and senior Russian officials. Washington had already announced sanctions on 11 people.

Russia responded with its own list of sanctions against a number of U.S. lawmakers and officials.

Concerns over military buildup

Also at the nuclear summit Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Deshchytsia, and, separately, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

During his meeting with Lavrov, Kerry expressed concern about Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

Other officials, including NATO's top military commander, have already expressed concern about the buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine's border.

Separately, a Ukrainian leader of a far-right group was shot dead in what officials describe as a special forces operation.

Oleksandr Muzychko, better known as Sashko Bily, died in a shootout with police in a cafe in Rivne in western Ukraine, Ukrinform news agency quoted Kiev's interior ministry as saying.

He was a leader of Right Sector, a far-right group prominent in the recent anti-government protests.

CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Boriana Milanova and Jason Hanna contributed to this report. 

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