Ukraine sacks defence minister over Crimea

Former Ukrainian Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh delivers a speech during a parliament session in Kiev on March 25, 2014. Ukraine's parliament sacked the crisis-hit country's besieged defence minister Tuesday, March 25, 2014, after his forces bega
Former Ukrainian Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh delivers a speech during a parliament session in Kiev on March 25, 2014. Ukraine's parliament sacked the crisis-hit country's besieged defence minister Tuesday, March 25, 2014, after his forces began a humiliating withdrawal from Crimea without firing a shot against Russian forces who claimed the Black Sea peninsula. -- PHOTO: AFP

KIEV (AFP) - Ukraine's parliament sacked the crisis-hit country's besieged defence minister Tuesday after his forces began a humiliating withdrawal from Crimea without firing a shot against Russian forces who claimed the Black Sea peninsula.

Crimea's effective loss - though recognised by no Western power - has dealt a heavy psychological blow to many Ukrainians who have already spent the past years mired in corruption and economic malaise.

Ukraine's ground commanders in Crimea had complained bitterly of indecision and confusion among the top brass in Kiev since Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision on March 1 to seek the right to use force against his neighbour in response to last month's fall in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime.

Some 228 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada parliament supported Igor Tenyukh's dismissal after the acting defence minister tendered his resignation in an emotional address broadcast live across the nation of 46 million people.

"It seems that the actions of the interim defence minister in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea... has displeased some," said Mr Tenyukh. "I have never clung on to my job, and I don't intend to do so now," he said. "I have honour."

Deputies then quickly voted to appoint Lieutenant General Mykhailo Koval as the new acting defence minister after his name was submitted for approval by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov.

Gen Koval had made news earlier this month when he was briefly abducted by pro-Kremlin militias near his military base in the Crimean port of Yalta.

Tuesday's session gave lawmakers a chance to voice growing frustrations with how the interim leaders have handled their jobs since being swept to power on the back of three months of deadly protests whose ultimate aim was to eliminate the corruption and Kremlin dependence Kremlin that have weighed over Ukraine throughout its post-Soviet history.

"We gave up Crimea to the Russians thanks to our unprofessionalism," independent lawmaker Igor Palytsya fumed. "We gave up Crimea thanks to our indecision."

The Crimean crisis has sparked the most explosive East-West confrontation since the Cold War era and fanned fears in Kiev that Mr Putin now intends to push his troops into the heavily Russified regions of southeast Ukraine.

Western leaders sought to ward off any such threat by forging a more forceful response in The Hague after two rounds of only targeted sanctions that hit only specific officials but left Russia's broader economy untouched.

A summit of the Group of Seven most industrialised countries agreed on Monday to deepen Moscow's isolation over the crisis and meet on their own - without Russia - in Brussels instead of gathering in Sochi in June.

They also threatened tougher sanctions over Moscow's formal annexation of Crimea last week.

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