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Published: Sunday March 16, 2014 MYT 7:55:02 PM
Updated: Sunday March 16, 2014 MYT 7:55:02 PM

Ukraine defiant despite Russian troop build-up in Crimea

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine has no intention of pulling its troops out of Crimea despite a rapid build-up of Russian troops in the region to a level of about 22,000 servicemen, the acting defence minister said in comments published on Sunday.

Ihor Tenyukh, interviewed by Interfax news agency as the pro-Russian Crimean leadership held a referendum on union with Russia, said Ukraine in no way considered the peninsula lost and would remain there and take action in accordance with events.

Under agreements covering the basing of Russia's Black Sea fleet in Crimea, Russia had set a limit of 12,500 for the number of its servicemen in Crimea for 2014, he said.

"Unfortunately, in a very short period of time, this 12,500 has grown to 22,000," he said. "This is a crude violation of the bilateral agreements and is proof that Russia has unlawfully brought its troops onto the territory of Crimea."

He told the agency the figure of Russian servicemen in Crimea had stood at 18,400 on Friday.

"We are seeing an increase in the number of Russian servicemen in Crimea," he said. "And the Ukrainian armed forces are therefore taking appropriate measures along the southern borders."

Tenyukh said every senior Ukrainian officer in Crimea "clearly knows what is to be done depending on the situation".

"Decisions will be taken depending on how events unfold. But let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it."

Sunday's vote in Crimea has been denounced as illegal by Ukraine and Western countries but described as legitimate by Russia.

First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema, in an interview broadcast on public television, also said Ukrainian troops would never leave the region.

"Under no circumstances. This is our territory. If they (Russian troops) start military actions, we will respond at a level appropriate to the threat posed to Ukrainian citizens," he said.

"If they use weapons against us, we will also use weapons.

Ukraine, he said, had received no clear reply to requests for U.S. military or other aid, particularly if clashes erupted in border areas where Russian and Ukrainian forces were deployed. It had also sought help, he said, in controlling airspace over Ukraine's 15 nuclear reactors.

"No clear reply was received," he said. "Both the Americans and the Europeans will decide in terms of the situation."

Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk met U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last week but no mention was made of U.S. military assistance.

(Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Angus MacSwan)

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