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Has Crimea Referendum Sparked A New Cold War?


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Green.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

In Russia today, President Vladimir Putin made this declaration to a joint session of the Russian parliament.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through Translator) Today, basing on the results of the referendum that happened in Crimea and basing on the will of the people, I bring in into the council federation the constitutional law about two new subjects of federation joining Russian Federation: the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol.

MONTAGNE: If there was ever any question, Russian annexation of Crimea looks like a done deal. Ellen Barry of The New York Times has been reporting from Moscow on Russia's move into Ukraine and joins us to talk more about what happened this morning. Please describe the scene there.

ELLEN BARRY: So this was a very solemn and grand affair in one of the most, kind of storied rooms in the Kremlin. There are huge gold chandeliers, and under those chandeliers were gathered, basically everyone who matters in Putin's system. When he took the stage, there was just a prolonged applause, and that was repeated again and again during his speech.

MONTAGNE: And the speech appears to have been about righting the wrongs of history.

BARRY: Yes. At the beginning of the speech, he has dipped into sort of a deep well of emotion that Russians have about the events of the 20th century and the sense of Russians that they were somehow orphaned by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country that they grew up in. He said at one point, people went to sleep in one country, and they woke up abroad. So there was a message - although he was talking about Crimea specifically, there was a message of sort of gathering in those Russians who were stranded by the end of the Soviet Union. And that is a very emotional message for Russians.

MONTAGNE: What did Putin say about the U.S. and the sanctions that have been announced because of these moves on Crimea?

BARRY: So the second part of the speech, actually, was a little bit like a sermon. It was a litany of grievance against what he views as U.S. unilateralism, starting from Kosova through Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, which, for Putin, is a particularly sore point. He said: They cheated us again and again, and then he said later: Our western partners crossed a line in Ukraine. And from this perspective, it seemed like a very important declaration on his part that the period during which Russia would tolerate its position being ignored was over.

MONTAGNE: Well, did he talk about his further intentions in Ukraine? I mean, there is worry that Russian troops might move elsewhere into the east along other parts of Ukraine that are Russian speaking and potentially interested in being part of Russia.

BARRY: So he sent several fairly specific messages to Ukraine, and they were, I would say, quite conciliatory. He spoke at length about protecting the rights of Crimean Tatars who are extremely anxious about accession into Russia. And he symbolically extended his protection to the Crimean Tatars. So he's clearly anticipating some very difficult ethnic problems there.

He also said to Ukraine: There's no need to be afraid of us. We do not want to divide Ukraine. We don't need to do that. So that seemed to be a statement that Russia has no intention to invade the eastern part of the country, and the Russian market seem to respond to that quickly and began to rise.

MONTAGNE: And, Ellen, watching this, it seemed for a moment that Vladimir Putin has been building towards this, I mean, for a long time.

BARRY: It certainly sounded that way. It sounded like a man who is describing mounting frustration of the past 15 years or even going back to his disappointment at the end of the Soviet Union - which he has called the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century - and the sense that people were left without the country that they grew up in.

Margarita Simonyan, who's the editor of Russia Today, said something very kind of resonant on Twitter. She wrote: You know, there have two times when I acutely felt that I was part of the history of my country: once when I drank tea with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at his house, and now.

MONTAGNE: Ellen Barry of The New York Times, speaking to us from Moscow. Thanks very much.

BARRY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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