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Ukraine protests chase out Marines

Published Jun 16, 2006 11:07 PM

President George W. Bush’s June 13 visit to Baghdad may have been the top of the news, but his cancelled visit to Kiev, Ukraine, only made the inside pages. The Kiev “postponement,” announced June 8, followed the June 7 announcement that Ukraine had canceled U.S.-Ukrainian military exercises in the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula.

Anti-NATO activists, mainly from Ukraine, had been demonstrating for over a week starting May 27 to protest the exercises. Some 250 U.S. Marines had landed in the Crimea to make preparations for the exercises, which the Ukrainian parliament had not yet authorized. The exercises, called “Sea Breeze” and “Tight Knot,” were scheduled to start in June and continue to August.

The Marines were told they had a quick and simple mission: installing new showers and toilets at a military training facility, then leaving. But they were confronted with hundreds of protesters who set up anti-NATO blockades and shouted, “Occupiers, go home!” The demonstrators stayed for over a week.

Crimea is a mostly ethnic Russian auton omous section of Ukraine. The local parliament was opposed to the military maneuvers, calling them “inexpedient.” Since the Ukrainian parliament hadn’t authorized the maneuvers either, the only legal basis for the Marines’ landing was a go-ahead from Ukrainian President Yush chenko. With legality on their side, the demonstrators confronted the Marines and helped disrupt preparations for the exercise.

Meanwhile, many Russian parliamentarians visited Crimea to show their solidarity with the anti-NATO demonstrations and object to any further expansion of NATO forces to the east.

With no approval from parliament by June 7, Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko announced at a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting at defense ministers’ level in Brussels, Belgium, on June 8 that “Sea Breeze” and “Tight Knot” would have to be postponed because of the political situations in Kiev and the Crimea.

Subsequently, the Bush administration decided to postpone his trip to Ukraine.