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Focus On Ukraine's Crisis With Russia Moves Eastward


Good Monday morning to you. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

Many people in Ukraine are asking what else Russia might want from their country. Russian troops have already taken full control of the Crimea region.

INSKEEP: That's posed a challenge for world leaders, including President Obama, as we'll discuss in a moment. Now people in Eastern Ukraine, the part closest to Russia, wonder if they are next for a Russian take over, and some hope they will be.

GREENE: And let's go now to Eastern Ukraine in the city of Donetsk, where we find NPR's Gregory Warner on the line. Gregory, good morning.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So this is another part of the country, of Ukraine, where there's a lot of pro-Russia sentiment. Now that this annexation in Crimea is pretty much complete, I mean what's the feeling there?

WARNER: Well, there have been these weekend rallies, sometimes with thousands of people shouting pro-Russian slogans, inviting Russia to come annex them next, attempting to take over government buildings - so far unsuccessfully. And there has been violence. At the same time, though, the springtime is returning. Donetsk is known as the city of a million roses. It used to supply flowers to the whole Soviet Union.

So there is this feeling among many people: We're not going to let these political rallies effect our enjoyment of the sunshine. And the tension maybe has eased somewhat.

GREENE: Well, if there are some there who are calling for annexation by Russia, I mean it's worth pointing out that Russia's President Vladimir Putin has promised he's not going to invade Eastern Ukraine. He says his ambitions have ended in Crimea. I mean do people believe Putin?

WARNER: Well, the United States has noted a massive buildup of Russian troops on the Crimean border, a border that wasn't even a border several weeks ago. Now that Russian troops have basically occupied Crimea, the great fear is that they will go further. And in fact there has been one time when Russian troops have crossed that border and attacked a gas plant.

President Putin has also said he's concerned about the situation for Russian speakers; that was his exact justification for entering Crimea. And you have this greater Russia rhetoric. Every rally I've been to includes a Soviet flag or two. At the same time Crimea is a really special case, not only in its relationship to Russia. But also militarily, Crimea could be sealed off from two points - it's a peninsula.

But I think it's important to realize that Russia does not necessarily need to attack this place militarily to succeed in its aims. I mean all this unrest and uncertainty has really undermined the legitimacy of the new government in Kiev. And there's constant messaging on the television - the Russian channels that most people watch here - that Kiev can't protect you, the economy will be destroyed. So I think we've got to watch out for this information war. It may be even more important than the military one.

GREENE: Well, let me just ask you, Greg, about this idea of protecting Russian speakers. There are some who have accused Russia of actually bussing in people to create unrest there and hypothetically justify a Russian incursion in the name of protecting Russian speakers. I mean is that a narrative that is actually playing out?

WARNER: Kiev has made a big show of closing the border with Russia. That border has now been reopened, but people say that Russian speakers who try to enter into Ukraine say they're getting a lot more problems at the border. There is this narrative that it's Russian provocateurs that are being bussed in from Russia that are causing these problems in Ukraine. That really doesn't tell the whole story because there is a lot of pro-Russian people here and they don't feel that the Kiev Revolution was there revolution.

So I think there's a very careful line here. The more that Kiev blames Russia as the enemy, the more they risk antagonizing people in this region. And the more they really risk breaking up the country.

GREENE: NPR's Gregory Warner on the line with us from the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Greg, thanks a lot.

WARNER: Thanks, Dave. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
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