Global Policy Forum

Ukraine Crowd Tells US Troops to Leave Country


By David Holley

Los Angeles Times
June 3, 2006

Demonstrators seeking to undercut their president's drive to join NATO target a group of Marines preparing for joint military exercises.

A group of Marine reservists were the target of anti-NATO protests Friday in Ukraine's predominantly Russian-speaking Crimean region, with the demonstrators seeking to undercut a drive by President Viktor Yushchenko to lead his nation toward membership in the Western alliance.

More than 100 Marines are preparing for a joint U.S.-Ukrainian military exercise scheduled for July. They were being transported by bus to join other American military personnel at a Ukrainian Defense Ministry sanitarium in the Black Sea town of Feodosiya when protesters blocked their route about 4 a.m. Friday, Rossiya television reported.

The state-run Russian channel showed footage of a crowd surrounding the bus in darkness, rocking it back and forth, and shouting in English, "Yankee, go home!" The convoy turned around and took the Marines to a facility in Alushta, another Black Sea coastal town.

Rossiya television showed demonstrators gathering there as well, shouting anti-American slogans and displaying a long red banner reading, "The people of Alushta demand it: No to NATO in Ukraine!" "Leave this place. We don't need you here," a middle-aged woman shouted through a loudspeaker. "Go back to your mothers." The protests began Sunday when a U.S. ship arrived in Feodosiya carrying personnel and equipment to be used in preparing a Ukrainian military facility to hold the exercises, dubbed "Sea Breeze 2006." The ship has also been blockaded by protesters.

Under Ukrainian law, parliament must give annual approval for foreign troops to enter the country for training exercises. Usually that is a formality. But in February, just before March parliamentary elections, lawmakers voted down a bill that would have granted such permission.

The new parliament, which has not yet reached agreement on forming the next government, has met only briefly since the elections, and its next session is set for Wednesday. The outgoing Cabinet hopes to win approval for the military exercises at that session. At a protest in Feodosiya on Thursday, Leonid Grach, a Communist Party leader, charged that Yushchenko had "betrayed the interests of Ukraine." "Crimean residents should demonstrate that they can defend themselves against the outright traitors in Kiev, who will try to railroad through parliament on June 7 the law on the deployment of American invaders in the Crimea," Grach told the protesters, according to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass. "The people should defend our Slavonic unity…. We shall not give so much as an inch of our land to be trampled by the boots of U.S. soldiers."

The protesters in the Crimean region and other critics of Yushchenko argue that because parliament has not yet authorized the presence of foreign troops for the exercises, the presence of U.S. military personnel in the country is illegal.

The Ukrainian Defense and Foreign ministries issued a joint statement Friday blasting the protests as "destructive moves under pseudo-patriotic mottos" aimed at achieving partisan political aims. The protests have been backed by several opposition political parties critical of Yushchenko. The statement said that more than a dozen other countries were expected to participate in Sea Breeze 2006, but it was formally considered to be a Ukrainian-American event rather than a North Atlantic Treaty Organization activity. The other participants include Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Georgia and Spain. The exercises will not be held without parliamentary approval, the statement declared.

Yushchenko has made winning eventual NATO membership for Ukraine one of his key goals, but surveys show a majority of citizens oppose it. A poll conducted in January by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization that specializes in surveys, showed that 19% of respondents favored entering the alliance and 55% opposed such a move, with the rest expressing no opinion. Many critics of NATO membership argue that it would worsen Ukraine's traditionally close relationship with Russia while providing few security benefits.

"On April 10 my child went off to the army. I sent him off because our country had been peaceful," Svetlana Shevchenko, one of the protesters outside the sanitarium housing the Marines, told Rossiya television. "Now that NATO forces have entered, I don't want my child fighting. That's not what I brought him up for — to be killed for the sake of Lord-knows-what values."

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