Ukraine's Temporary Government Strained By Ongoing Tensions

The brand new government in Ukraine is struggling to respond to the crisis in Crimea. Host Arun Rath talks to NPR's Emily Harris in Kiev about the continuing tensions in the region.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

As you just heard, Russia's parliament today upped the ante in Moscow's faceoff with Kiev. Russian lawmakers approved Russian President Vladimir Putin's request to deploy troops to Crimea to normalize the social political situation there.

NPR's Emily Harris is in Kiev, and I asked her if having Russian troops in the region is a significant step toward full military confrontation.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: It is a step, but a small one. It's far less than actually mobilizing troops or even approving mobilization, which is what Russia did with its vote. Ukraine's acting President Alexandr Turchinov said that he ordered troops to go on full military readiness, specifically because of potential aggression from Russia. But at the same time, he said that this is Ukraine protecting all citizens no matter where they live or what primary language they speak. So taking a very different rhetorical tone than Russia, which is talking about protecting Russian citizens in Ukraine.

Ukraine's new prime minister said the decision was made to protect Ukraine's sovereignty. But at the same time, he said he's convinced that Russia won't actually intervene militarily because this, he said, would actually trigger a war.

RATH: So what are Ukraine's other options?

HARRIS: Well, I've been asking this question to politic watchers here. They say one key thing to look for is how hard Ukraine pushes the U.S. and Europe to stick to security guarantees that the west gave Ukraine when Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons after the fall of the Soviet Union. We know that Ukraine's president spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry on the telephone today. He's reportedly told Kerry that the Russian parliament's vote is a direct threat to Ukraine's sovereignty, so bringing up the security issues.

But analysts here say that Ukraine could also push hard for international mediation, something that the U.N. is calling for. Ukraine's parliament is going to meet in an emergency session tomorrow to discuss all these options further.

RATH: Hmm. It's unbelievable what the country has been through. It's just over a week ago, we saw people dying in the streets of Kiev, confrontations with government forces. Then the president was ousted. We have a new government that's not even been in place for a week. What's the mood like in Kiev right now?

HARRIS: Well, in central Kiev, the scene of all of those confrontations you described, there is still a certain sense of staying on alert. The barricades are still up, although you can walk around. The sandbags and the barbed wire is off into piles now. I saw a dozen civil guards tonight wearing metal hats and carrying metal shields out marching together.

At the same time, people are visiting the square, and the blocks around it laying flowers on piles of bricks and sandbags, taking photos of themselves in front of burned-out buildings. Many people here say that Crimea really must stay part of Ukraine, but no one seems eager for a war. And I have met a distinct minority, a few people who aren't actually convinced that it's that important to hang on to Crimea.

In other parts of the country, there have been some pro-Russia demonstrations today in several eastern city. The largest one was in Kharkiv where local officials said that 100 people were hurt in scuffles.

RATH: NPR's Emily Harris in Kiev. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

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