KIEV, June 3 ‚Äď A group of Russian citizens may have been actively involved in the protests trying to prevent a NATO-Ukrainian military exercise in Crimea, a top security advisor to President Viktor Yushchenko said Friday.
Volodymyr Horbulin, the acting secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, a body advising the president on security issues, said the group had been apparently blocking key roads in the area.
The protests have been supported by local pro-Russian parties in Crimea for the past seven days, but any involvement by the foreign nationals would be illegal.
It may also indicate that Russia‚Äôs actual involvement in the developing anti-NATO demonstrations in Ukraine may have been bigger than had been earlier thought.
Russia, which views NATO as a military threat, has been persistently trying to prevent Ukraine‚Äôs integration with the alliance.
‚ÄúThese citizens will be deported from the territory of Ukraine and after the Foreign Ministry reviews the situation, they will be defined as persona non grata,‚ÄĚ Horbulin said.
Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine, said last week that Russia had nothing to do with the spreading protests.
The protests were sparked by the arrival of U.S. ship May 27 to Crimean port of Feodosia to deliver supplies for Sea Breeze 2006 exercise that is due to start in July.
The protesters, led by the Progressive Socialist Party, a small ultra-left and vehemently pro-Russian group, were joined by other pro-Russian groups, such as the Communist Party.
The Regions Party, a pro-Russian group that controls the biggest number of seats in Ukraine‚Äôs Parliament, has also issued statements condemning the exercise.
Ukraine has been holding the exercises with NATO ever since joining a Partnership for Peace program in 1997. But it is the first time the exercise has been facing well-organized and coordinated protests from the pro-Russian parties, analysts said.
The National Security and Defense Council, which includes key security and defense officials, had an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation, a sign of concern among the authorities.
After the meeting, Yushchenko signed a decree stipulating Ukraine will go ahead with the military exercise.
The decree instructs the country‚Äôs law enforcement agencies ‚Äúto deport foreign nationals that have been involved in the protests‚Ä¶ and to take steps they are not admitted to Ukraine in the future.‚ÄĚ (tl/ez)