ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And to hear how the Russians view events in Ukraine, we turn now to Andranik Migranyan. He's a political scientist and director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. That's a Russian-funded think tank in New York with close ties to Russia's leadership. Welcome to the program once again, Mr. Migranyan.
ANDRANIK MIGRANYAN: Yeah, thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: And first, who in Russian eyes is considered legitimate to lead Ukraine at this point?
MIGRANYAN: I don't think that Russians consider anybody in Kiev now to be legitimate because it's not because Russia is supportive to Yanukovych, but really what happened in Kiev, this was a coup and, of course, very weak president. He left without serious resistance, but, of course, at this moment, nobody in Kiev is legitimate.
SIEGEL: How important to Russia, today, is the territorial integrity of Ukraine? That is, is it absolutely vital that Ukraine remain intact within today's borders?
MIGRANYAN: It's hard to foresee how the situation would develop because everything depends how eastern and southern part of Ukraine is ready to fight against this nationalist and extremist sentiments of this, you know, rebels who particularly are controlling the Kiev. The last thing which Russia wants, it's a civil war in Ukraine.
But, of course, if this mobs and armed rebels are going to attack Crimea, if Crimeans...
SIEGEL: We should explain here. Let me explain to people here that Crimea, the Crimean peninsula that juts into the Black Sea is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. In the 1950s, Nikita Khrushchev took the Crimean...
MIGRANYAN: '54, yeah, in 1950...
SIEGEL: ...which had been Russian and gave it to Ukraine as a birthday present for 300 years of Russian/Ukrainian union. So it's part of Ukraine, but it became part of the Ukraine on the assumption that it would always be part of the Soviet Union. What would constitute provocation in Crimea that would lead Russians to do something?
MIGRANYAN: Yeah, I think if there going to be attack against Crimea, an attempt to come there and to seize the power, I think if Crimean-armed people are going to fight, then this could change radically a situation because I'm not sure that the fleet over there would stay out of this conflict.
SIEGEL: We should just say, Crimea is an autonomous region of some sort within Ukraine. You're saying if - and it's, I believe, it's majority Russian or are there groups there as well?
MIGRANYAN: Yeah, three-fourths of the population and by the way, once they did that in '94, but at that time, Russia was very weak. President Yeltsin, you know, unable and no resources to do anything.
SIEGEL: So if I hear you, if similar events happened in Crimea to what happened in the 1990s, if a Russian group were to declare it was independent of Ukraine and wanted to join with Russia, the Russian response today might be very different from what it was in the 1990s.
MIGRANYAN: That's quite possible because Russia is in different state. Russian leader is different person. He enjoys support of overwhelming majority of Russian people and this is totally different situation.
SIEGEL: Mr. Migranyan, bottom line here, what is implicit and explicit in everything you've said is Russians take what happens in Ukraine extremely seriously and of vital interest to them. Fair to say?
MIGRANYAN: Absolutely. Because this is existential problem for Russia. Russia would like to have next door, a friendly state, good relations and very close ties.
SIEGEL: Existential problems are the problems that countries are prepared to use force to solve.
MIGRANYAN: Exactly. This is existential problem.
SIEGEL: Mr. Migranyan, it's always good to talk with you. Thanks for talking with us about the Russian view of what's happening in Ukraine.
MIGRANYAN: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Andranik Migranyan who is director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, the Russian-funded think tank in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.