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Dwarfed by Russian Might, Ukraine Plans New Force of 33K

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KIEV — Some 40,000 volunteers have come forward to join a proposed new National Guard, Ukraine's new pro-Western authorities say, a tentative first step towards overhauling a military outgunned and outmanned by Russia.

With Ukraine's Crimea peninsula firmly in the grip of Russian forces, parliament on Thursday considers a bill to create a 33,000-strong force.

Initiated by Acting President Oleksander Turchinov, the bill tasks the guard with maintaining public order, protecting sites like nuclear power plants and "upholding the constitutional order and restoring the activity of state bodies".

"As of today, Ukraine's military enlistment offices have registered 40,000 volunteers," an official statement quoted Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, as saying.

"Already tomorrow, the self-defense forces and activists of the Maidan will start their training," he added.

Turchinov told parliament on Tuesday that mismanagement under the ousted Yanukovich meant the armed forces had to be rebuilt "effectively from scratch."

The acting defense minister said Ukraine had only 6,000 combat-ready infantry compared to more than 200,000 Russian troops on its eastern borders.

Among the dozens of men in combat gear still camped out on Independence Square and vowing to remain until they are satisfied with the new government, there was both interest and skepticism towards the new force.

The creation of a National Guard is one of several measures under consideration to bolster defense capabilities. Exercises involving tanks, artillery and infantry get under way this week in western and northern Ukraine.

— Reuters

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