'Come serve!' Russia tempts Ukraine soldiers in Crimea

'Come serve!' Russia tempts Ukraine soldiers in Crimea
Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand guard, with Ukrainian servicemen seen in the foreground, at a military airbase, in the Crimean town of Belbek near Sevastopol March 22, 2014. The commander of Belbek airbase in Crimea said on Saturday he would be taken away by Russian forces for talks after they entered the base with armored vehicles and automatic rifles.

NOVOFEDORIVKA - He had a spark in his eye, a sympathetic smile, and a friendly voice.

Major General Igor Kozhin, in charge of Russia's naval aviation, stood outside the military base in Novofedorivka, a village in western Crimea, welcoming Ukrainian soldiers with open arms.

"I do not see any traitors here," he warmly told the young servicemen, looking impressive in his impeccable uniform with medals and embroidered insignia.

In an hour, the Russian forces will have taken control of this large airbase near the town of Saki.

At that point, the soldiers will have to make an existential choice between the army of Ukraine to which they pledged allegiance, or to Moscow, the occupying force.

"And will the Russian army really need us?" one Ukrainian serviceman in a camouflage uniform and a military fur hat asked as a small group of curious and demoralised soldiers formed around Khozin.

"I personally need qualified employees," Kozhin replied.

Another soldier asked if there was an age limit to serve Russia.

"That is not a problem. You can do your service until you are 60 years old if your health permits it," he answered.

The recruitment in the shade of the linden tree was informal and peaceful.

But Ukrainian soldiers had many worrying reservations: Will they be able to return to Ukraine? Will they be considered traitors?

"On the Russian side, you will have all the rights, you will be left in peace," Kozhin said.

"As for the rest, everything will depend on Ukraine. And I do not think that Ukraine will be too accommodating. You know full well who is in power there today," he added, referring to the widespread belief spread by Moscow that the new government in Kiev is controlled by far-right nationalists.

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