: Ukraine's ex-officer tells how he helped Russian invaders seize Crimea

14:20 Apr. 25, 2016

Ukraine's ex-officer tells how he helped Russian invaders seize Crimea

Russian military personnel move towards a Ukrainian military base on March 19, 2014 in Perevalnoe, Ukraine (Getty Images)

Mertsalov cooperated with Russian military when they stormed the Simferopol airport in 2014 

Vladimir Mertsalov, a former member of Ukraine's Interior Affairs Ministry, who defected to Russia during the Crimea occupation, reveals details how the Black Sea was seized by the Russian military in an interview with the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Mertsalov headed "militants" and stormed the airport in Simferopol with the Russian regular forces.

"On February 27 my troop took part in capturing the Simferopol airport. When we cordoned off the airport, a guy ran up to me. As I learned later, it was Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov, former self-proclaimed leader of the Russian-backed separatist forces). " Vladimir, hang on a little longer - reinforcements are coming from Sevastopol rides", he told me. I apparently kept cool, but I thought to myself that the bikers were coming - well, who else could come to us?" Mertsalov said.

Read also Russia to train bomber pilots in occupied Crimea

According to him, half an hour later ten trucks - with no state plates - came to the airport, but Mertsalov realized it was the Russian military contingent that 'arrived to rescue'.

"Men jumped out of the car, fully equipped and armed with rifle scopes, and all. I came over to their commander, Lieutenant Colonel introduced myself; "I am Vladimir Mertsalov, commander of the fourth troop"- and burst into tears. I first thought they were the Russian special forces (GRU) and then found out that they were paratroopers. Afterwards, they helped us seize the State Council and the Council of Ministers", Mertsalov said.

Next morning, when foreign TV channels reported on "little green men", Mertsalov denied his cooperation with Russian regular troops.

"Well, I was asked: "Is it, Russian troops?" And I shrugged: "How do I know? I'm not an expert. They have no identification marks. Yes, they have Kalashnikov rifles but half the world uses this weapon. In general, I had to paly a fool ...", Mertsalov said.

Read also Moscow agent Strelkov admits Russian army behind Crimean referendum

Mertsalov also headed the team which was negotiating with the Ukrainian military. "It was pretty easy to convince Ukrainian commanders", Mertsalov said. However, he admitted that a military unit of the 1st Ukrainian Navy separate Marine battalion in Feodosia was an exception, it had to really be seized.

"I stormed it together with the Russian paratroopers - the armoured personnel carrier entered the territory of the Ukrainian military unit. We had to do that because those (Ukrainian) officers were trained in the U.S. This is not a fiction for the sake of propaganda - everybody in Crimea, who knows at least something about military service, was aware of that. Volunteer recruits were all locals, so we did not even touch them. But we attacked the commanders, then I arranged them - 12 people - in the port. We released them all, following the order from the 'headquarters." 


Russian paramilitaries stand guard outside of a Ukrainian military base in the town of Perevevalne near the Crimean city of Simferopol on March 11, 2014 in Perevevalne, Ukraine (Getty Images)

In March 2014, after putting boots on the ground, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimea and organized a sham 'referendum' on self-determination. The self-proclaimed Crimean authorities said that 96.77% voted in favour of joining Russia.

On March 18, the Kremlin signed the so-called "contract" on Russia's adoption of Crimea and Sevastopol. Western countries do not recognize the annexation of Crimea and introduced a series of economic sanctions against Russia.

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