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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Marines Pull Out of Crimea

APProtesters cheering Sunday as buses with U.S. Marines leave Feodosia.
KIEV -- U.S. Marines began leaving Crimea over the weekend following two weeks of charged protests that prevented them from carrying out repair work at a Ukrainian training base and rattled the nation's still-unformed government.

Communists and demonstrators from pro-Russian parties declared victory, having staged daily protests on the Crimean Peninsula since the May 27 arrival of a ship that brought the U.S. reservists and equipment to repair the base in connection with upcoming military exercises.

The protests prevented the reservists from getting on to the base. Demonstrators accused NATO and the United States of seeking a foothold in Ukraine.

Russian television broadcast footage of several dozen flag-bearing protesters shouting "Yankee Go Home!" as buses carrying the Americans began pulling out of the site where they were staying.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials said the 200 U.S. reservists began leaving the region on Sunday, and that they were leaving due to the end of their contract.

"The American reservists are departing ... because they were contracted to be here for two weeks in all and now they are going home to their families," U.S. Embassy spokesman Brent Byers said in televised comments dubbed into Russian. "We're very disappointed that they didn't fulfill what was planned. But I want to emphasize there was no talk of founding a NATO base in the Crimea. These were only joint exercises."

The head of the National Security and Defense Council said the Sea Breeze exercises would be held as a Ukrainian-only maneuver if the parliament did not approve Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's request for foreign troops to be on Ukrainian soil. Twelve nations had planned to take part.

Yushchenko has made NATO membership a top priority since his 2004 presidential campaign and in the coalition talks that have dragged on for weeks has been pushing for potential partners to commit to that goal.

The continuing uncertainty over forming a new government -- along with the protests, which have been prominently covered by Russian media -- led U.S. President George W. Bush to put off a visit to Ukraine scheduled for later this month.