Ukraine to quit CIS, begin visa regime for Russian citizens

KIEV, Ukraine - Following Moscow's annexation of Crimea, Russian citizens will soon be required to hold valid travel visas when visiting Ukraine, according to a decision Thursday by Ukraine's top national security and defense body.

Ukraine's armed forces will also begin joint military drills with the U.S. and UK, Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the country's National Security and Defense Council, said in a speech Thursday.

Ukraine’s Council of Ministers asked the United Nations to assist in the immediate evacuation of Ukrainian troops from Crimea. Parubiy also said the council will assist help evacuate citizens who wish to leave the peninsula. 

Kiev has also withdrawn from the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Parubiy stated.

The CIS was created in December 1991 as an alliance of 12 of the 15 former Soviet republics. 

Ukraine joins Georgia as the second country to leave the alliance after Tbilisi withdrew following its 2008 war with Russia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

The defense council plans to tighten the security measures for Ukraine's nuclear and strategic facilities.

Parubiy accused Russia of planning an invasion of the country's eastern, Russian-speaking regions in attempt to cancel presidential elections scheduled for May.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has authorized Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk to sign the political part of the European Union (EU) Association Agreement. Yatsenyuk previously stated that the remaining economic agreement would be signed after further negotiations with the EU.

Ukraine was the topic of discussion at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday. Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, blamed the West for the crisis in Ukraine. 

The U.S.' representative to the UN, Samantha Power, said, "Russia is known for its great writers. However, the things we are hearing right now shows the Russian representative has an even bigger imagination than Tolstoy and Chekhov."

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic stated that a human rights monitoring mission would begin on Friday in Crimea. Simonovic also expressed concerns about the security of the region's minority Crimean Tatar population.

"I have serious concerns about the situation in Crimea, where the situation remains tense with respect to the protection of human rights," he said. "I'm deeply concerned about the human rights of those who opposed the recent political events in Crimea."

One Tuesday, Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev said the new regional government would demand that the Tatar population vacate part of the land where they now live in exchange for being resettled elsewhere in the region.

The Crimean Tatars, who make up roughly 13 percent of the population, were forcibly deported en-masse to Central Asia by Moscow in 1944. They were only allowed to return to their ancestral homeland in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union began to unravel. 

The U.N. Security Council on Saturday moved to urge countries not to recognize the vote, but the resolution was not adopted due to a Russian veto. Thirteen countries voted in favor, while China abstained.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the legal process of finalizing Crimea’s accession to Russia would be completed by the end of the week.

"Currently, we are involved in the practical implementation of the agreements on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation," Lavrov said in a meeting with foreign ministry officials. 

He also stated that Moscow would insist on protecting the rights of native Russian speakers in the region.

"We shall be fighting for their interests through political and diplomatic methods. We will insist that their rights and freedoms are fully observed by the countries where our fellow countrymen live," Lavrov added.  

Crimean authorities, on Thursday, released Ukrainian Navy chief Sergei Hayduk, who had been captured after pro-Russian forces overran Kiev’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters on Wednesday, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said.

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