Tensions Remain High In Crimea

Mar 4, 2014
Originally published on March 4, 2014 4:49 pm

There have been standoffs between Russian and Ukranian troops outside the bases that the Russians have been occupying since the weekend.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev today promising financial aid to the new Ukranian government and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time since he sent the troops into Crimea.

NPR’s Peter Kenyon joins Here & Now’s Robin Young from Simferopol, Crimea, with the latest.


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And now let's check in on our top story, the crisis in Ukraine. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Simferopol in Crimea, one of the places where Russian troops have moved in. Peter, how would you describe the situation there?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, people are essentially calm. But there's always uncertainty about what's happening at any given moment. The government here is essentially run by followers of a fringe separatist, pro-Russian party called Russian Unity. Its leader, Sergey Aksyonov, is now prime minister. His party got all of 3 percent of the vote in the last elections, so people are still trying to get used to this person being in charge. The impact hasn't been fully felt yet because of the Russian military occupation, which Vladimir Putin said again today is not happening.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, what are people on the ground saying to you about that?

KENYON: Oh, well, they're pretty much welcoming the troops. There is no doubt among the people here that it's Russian forces who are guarding them. And they can tell the difference between those troops who are very professional and well-trained and the more or less ragtag group of very enthusiastic volunteers. Pro-Russian Crimeans are calling themselves self-defense forces.

The Russians have really not had to worry too much about taking control here because the majority of the population welcomes them as defenders. So they're effectively in control. There's been some concern about Russia trying to move elsewhere into Eastern Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv, but there's no sign of that yet.

YOUNG: Well, it's interesting you mention these people who might have come from outside Crimea still Russians because there's some reporting today here in the U.S. that this support of the Russians in Crimea has been ginned up by people brought in from the outside. But you're feeling it from the people who live there as well.

KENYON: In Crimea, definitely, there's a pro-Russian majority. In the other cities up in Ukraine - Donetsk and Kharkiv - we're hearing reports of people with Russian passports who have traveled over to join the pro-Russian protests. The majority of people are happy to see them here, although they say not permanently. Most people here, not counting the new prime minister, do not want to be part of Russia. They just want to be more independent from Kiev.

YOUNG: Well, and we know that there are minority groups - the Tatars, for instance - who are not happy about this. Are they being vocal?

KENYON: They're not being vocal. They're being very quiet. They are being very careful not to be used as scapegoats by provocateurs. They're very worried about someone being dressed as a Tatar doing something violent. So they're basically defending their own settlements, but they're trying not to do vocal protests and not keep a high profile right now.

YOUNG: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Simferopol, Crimea. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.