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Russia Approves Troop Action In Ukraine


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

RATH: Yesterday, President Barack Obama urged Russia to stay out of Ukraine's conflict. And today, Russia's upper house of parliament approved a request from President Vladimir Putin to use Russian troops in Ukraine. Ukraine's armed forces are on full alert today, and its prime minister says military intervention would be the beginning of war.

The Russian parliament is overwhelmingly controlled by Putin's own United Russia party, so there was little doubt that the approval would be given. In fact, Ukrainian officials in Kiev say the Russian deployment in Crimea was already well under way. We'll have more on the reaction in Kiev in a moment. But first to Moscow and NPR's Corey Flintoff.

Corey, events have obviously been moving very fast in the past few hours. What's the latest?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Arun, the latest news is that President Putin now has the parliamentary authority to deploy the Russian military on Ukrainian soil. And, of course, Ukrainian officials in Kiev have been saying that that's already happening. But Putin's spokesman is saying that the president hasn't actually decided to use that power yet. The spokesman said that Putin now has the full arsenal of means needed to resolve the situation, at least in terms of using military force. But he also said that the Kremlin hopes that the crisis won't escalate any further.

The second thing that the upper house of parliament asked Putin to do was to recall the Russian ambassador to the United States as a response to President Obama's statements about Ukraine.

RATH: Regarding those statements, President Obama said that it would be deeply destabilizing if Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine. He said there would be costs for that military intervention. How did the Russian parliament react to those words?

FLINTOFF: Angrily, very angrily. In fact, speaker after speaker got up to denounce Obama and his words. The deputy speaker of the upper house said Obama had crossed a red line and that he'd insulted Russia. He said Obama's words were a direct threat. Many members of the upper house - it's called the Federation Council - accused the United States and the European Union of openly supporting the opposition takeover in Kiev, and even of financing that three-month protest in the central square.

The head of the Federation Council also accused the western powers of not trying to rein in what Russia says are nationalists and fascist elements of the Ukrainian opposition. Putin's spokesman said that the president hasn't decided yet on the issue of whether to recall the Russian ambassador.

RATH: Let's go back to Putin's request for approval for military action for a moment. What exactly was he asking for?

FLINTOFF: In his statement to the parliament, he said: The extraordinary situation in Ukraine was putting the lives of Russian citizens at risk along with the lives of military personnel at the big Russian naval base in Crimea. So this is being couched as a protective measure.

It's worth noting, though, that the request isn't just restricted to Crimea. It mentions the territory of Ukraine, which could mean that Russia could deploy troops in any part of Ukraine that has Russian citizens. Some of the members of the Federation Council listed cities in Ukraine where there have been pro-Russian demonstrations, not just Crimea.

RATH: How do ordinary Russians seem to be reacting to the news?

FLINTOFF: Well, it's hard to tell at this point. It was already evening here when the Federation Council made this vote, but we've been hearing that there are a few people who've come out on the streets to display signs opposing the idea of Russia going to war over Ukraine.

I should say, though, that recent public opinion polling before the approval for military action showed that substantial numbers of Russians believe that there was an armed coup in Ukraine and that the situation there now is one of, as they call it, lawlessness and banditry.

We'll see in coming days how ordinary people react now that it means that Russian troops could actually be committed in a country that's always had very close ties to Russia.

RATH: NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Corey, thank you.

FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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