U.S. Reservists Pull Out Of Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- U.S. marines began leaving Crimea on Sunday following two weeks of protests by Communists and demonstrators from pro-Russian parties that prevented them from carrying out repair work at a Ukrainian training base and rattled the nation's still-unformed government.

U.S. Marines muster near buses in Feodosiya as they begin leaving the Crimea, Ukraine, Sunday, June 11, 2006, in this image from television. Daily demonstrations by pro-Russian parties and the Communists have been held on the Crimea since the May 27 arrival of a ship that brought U.S. reservists and equipment to repair a training base. Demonstrators accuse NATO and the United States of seeking a foothold in the ex-Soviet republic.

The protesters declared victory, having staged daily demonstrations since the arrival on May 27 of a ship that brought the U.S. reservists and equipment to repair the base in connection with planned military exercises.

Protests rarely consisted of more than a few hundred demonstrators, but the reservists were mostly confined to a holiday base and spent much of their time clearing beaches and upgrading a soccer field. Officials said they were advised against going into nearby towns for fear of provoking noisy confrontations.

Demonstrators accused NATO and the United States of seeking a foothold in the former Soviet republic.

Russian television broadcast footage of several dozen flag-bearing protesters shouting "Yankee Go Home!" as buses apparently carrying the Americans began pulling out of the site where they had been staying.

American and Ukrainian officials said that the 200 U.S. reservists began leaving the region on Sunday and that they were leaving because their contract was ending. "We're very disappointed that they didn't fulfill what was planned," a U.S. Embassy spokesman, Brent Byers, said in televised comments dubbed into Russian. "But I want to emphasize there was no talk of founding a NATO base in the Crimea. These were only joint exercises."

Many in Ukraine, particularly in the Russian-speaking south and east, remain hostile to NATO. Russia warned that relations between the neighbors would suffer if Ukraine joined the alliance.

The head of the National Security and Defense Council said the Sea Breeze exercises would be held as a Ukrainian-only maneuver if Parliament did not approve President Viktor Yushchenko's request for foreign troops to be on Ukrainian territory. Twelve nations had been scheduled to take part.

Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko blamed unnamed political forces for organizing the protests and accused them of trying to "gain revenge with these extremist actions."

Yushchenko's political opponents have been energized by his party's humiliating third-place finish in March parliamentary elections and the ensuing difficult talks to put together a new governing coalition.

Yushchenko has made NATO membership a top priority since his 2004 presidential campaign, and in the coalition talks that have dragged on for weeks he has been pushing for potential partners to commit to that goal.

The continuing uncertainty over forming a new government - along with the protests, which have been prominently covered by Russian media - led to President George W. Bush's putting off a visit to Ukraine scheduled for later this month.

Source: International Herald Tribune