MOSCOW, March 24 Russian Defence Minister Sergei
Shoigu met troops in Crimea and inspected military bases on
Monday, the most senior Russian official to visit the region
since it was annexed by Moscow.
He also rewarded the former head of Ukraine's navy, Rear
Admiral Denys Berezovsky, who was one of few Ukrainian officers
to switch allegiances before Moscow formally annexed the
peninsula, with the deputy command of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
Shoigu visited as Ukraine announced the evacuation of its
troops from Crimea, effectively yielding the region to Russian
forces which stormed one of Kiev's last bases there in what has
become the biggest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.
Shoigu, one of President Vladimir Putin's longest serving
ministers and closest allies, was shown by Russian television
station NTV meeting with Ukrainian officers who defected to the
side of pro-Russian local authorities.
"The most important thing is that there not be any interim
period when there is an absence of authority so that military
hardware does not fall into the wrong hands," Shoigu told
military commanders meeting in a white tent.
He also met Crimea's new pro-Moscow authorities - the
region's prime minister, speaker of parliament and the mayor of
Sevastopol, the city that is home to Russia's black Sea Fleet.
Russians Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev also visited
Crimea on Monday and said former members of Ukraine's 'Berkut'
riot police, a force disbanded and blamed for killing people in
the unrest that ousted Viktor Yanukovich, would be integrated
into the Russia police.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Angus MacSwan)