Russia's President Vladimir Putin, center, listens to the head of the Russian army's main department of combat preparation Ivan Buvaltsev, right, on March 3 along with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. On Monday, Shoigu inspected troops and military facilities in Crimea, the first senior Russian official to travel to the Black Sea peninsula since Moscow absorbed the region into its territory, state television said. (Mikhail Klimentyev / AFP)
MOSCOW — Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Monday inspected troops and military facilities in Crimea, the first senior Russian official to travel to the Black Sea peninsula since Moscow absorbed the region into its territory, state television said.
Shoigu, one of the closest allies of President Vladimir Putin in the Russian cabinet, inspected the Russian Black Sea Fleet based in the port of Sevastopol and also met Crimea’s pro-Moscow prime minister Sergei Aksyonov.
The minister is by far the most important Russian official to visit Crimea since Moscow declared the region part of Russia, in defiance of the stance of the international community that it will always be part of Ukraine.
State television showed Shoigu meeting Russian military forces in Crimea and also with former members of the Ukrainian armed forces who have elected to serve for Russia now the peninsula is under Russian control.
Shoigu assured the former Ukrainian troops that they would be able to serve anywhere in Russia and would have exactly the same benefits as other Russia servicemen.
He also made clear that it was a major priority for Russia to ensure that all military hardware on the peninsula was secured after the Russian takeover.
“In the last days, a group of officers has been checking and making sure there is no interim stage or anarchy, making sure that the military hardware does not fall into not the best hands,” he said in comments broadcast on state television.
His visit came after a pro-Moscow official declared that all troops loyal to Ukraine have left their bases on the Crimea peninsula and acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered troops to withdraw from the region.
Russian troops on Monday seized control of a new Ukrainian military base in Crimea in the eastern Crimean town of Feodosia, helping ensure its total military control of the peninsula.