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Crimean Peninsula Remains Tense But Largely Quiet


We go now to Ukraine, where the new government is scrambling to ready itself against Russia. Today, Ukraine warned Moscow against further incursions on its soil. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Simferopol, the capital of Ukraine's Crimean region.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Pro-Russian Crimeans make up the majority here, and they seem untroubled by the effective military occupation of their territory. For many, it's reassuring to hear that Russian forces now control most strategic assets in Crimea. In downtown Simferopol, Galena Moisyeva took a moment from an evening out with her husband to downplay what Western analysts are calling the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

GALENA MOISYEVA: (Through Translator) You talk about troops, but you can see we just came from the theater. We don't see any troops. In Kiev, the authorities are illegal. We don't like this. We ask for Crimea to be separated from Ukraine but we don't ask to join Russia. Putin gives us guarantees that what happens there in Kiev won't happen here.

KENYON: The Russian intervention ordered by President Vladimir Putin may become more visible today, with reports of more military trucks moving towards Simferopol. Russian servicemen in unmarked Russian uniforms and Russian vehicles are in control of government and strategic buildings, as well as airports both here and in Sevastopol, where Russia has a naval base. There is no sign of Ukraine's relatively small force here and Ukrainian border guard ships are reportedly blocked by Russian vessels. Within hours of Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov asking Russia for assistance, lawmakers in Moscow granted President Putin broad authority to use military force, not just in Crimea but in Ukraine in general in the face of what Russia calls direct threats to Russian citizens.


KENYON: These Saturday clashes on video and sent to YouTube were not from Crimea but from the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where several people were injured as pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian demonstrators faced off. Scenes such as this are getting heavy play in the Russian and eastern Ukrainian media and fueling an impression of widespread violence that doesn't actually exist. Analysts say recent events are strikingly similar to past Russian military interventions, notably in Georgia and Moldova. Gela Turabelidze runs a conflict and policy program in Kiev for university students, and he says in the 19th century Russia became one of the first countries to pass a law allowing it to protect Russian citizens anywhere, leading to a number of Russian interventions.

GELA TURABELIDZE: So, people in Russia, a majority of people are ready to fight for Russian speakers in Ukraine, because the major purpose of Russian propaganda, as I said, was to convince people that here people from Kiev are ready to kill or deprive the Russian speakers of their rights. And people are scared.

KENYON: President Obama condemned Moscow's intervention, and the upcoming G8 meeting in Sochi may be in question. The government in Kiev is calling up military reserves and appealing to the U.S. and Britain for security guarantees.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Not everyone here is applauding the Russian military action. One older man yelled at pro-Russian demonstrators outside the Crimean parliament that all they're doing is stirring up more fear and violence. And clearly many remain worried. Russia's TASS news agency cites the Ukrainian border guard as saying some 675,000 Ukrainians have left for Russia since January. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Simferopol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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