Russian Troops Move Toward Ukraine's Crimea Region

President Vladimir Putin has been granted the right to use military force in Crimea by that region's leader. NPR's Jacki Lyden speaks with New York Times' Steven Lee Myers in Moscow.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Rachel Martin is on assignment. In Russia and Ukraine, girding up for war. Russian armed forces have taken control of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula after the Russian parliament approved military force in Ukraine. Ukraine has put its forces on full alert, and this morning began calling up its military reserves. We're joined now by New York Times bureau chief, Steven Lee Myers, in Moscow. Steven, thank you for being with us.

STEVEN LEE MYERS: Thank you.

LYDEN: What are you hearing about Russia's making movements towards war?

MYERS: Well, effectively, Russia has already taken control of Crimea. It began several days ago. And the vote in the upper house of parliament last night was really just an affirmation of what was already happening on the ground. Curiously, today you see a sort of pause. The Kremlin says that in fact Putin hasn't yet made a decision to use or to deploy force and we're waiting to see what the next step would be, especially whether or not they go beyond Crimea.

LYDEN: Now, Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, has said he put his armed forces on full readiness. If it comes to a military conflict, does Ukraine's military stand a chance?

MYERS: They haven't been tested really in the way that Russian forces have been in various conflicts, from Chechnya to Georgia in 2008. I mean, the Russian military is obviously much larger, it's better equipped, it's had some moves towards modernization. So, I think that it would not necessarily be an even fight. That said, you know, it's not a small army and, you know, they do have capabilities. And the question will be whether or not they are able to hold together and put up some kind of resistance, if it comes to that.

LYDEN: Let me step back just a moment and remind us why President Vladimir Putin is stepping up the rhetoric against Ukraine. The Kremlin fears that Ukraine will separate. Is this justified?

MYERS: Ukraine has historically been part of Russia for centuries now. So, it's hard to separate that history from the fact that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent country. And I think that the source of this has been the fear that Ukraine would somehow spin out of the orbit of Moscow. It's an almost emotional issue for many Russians, not just President Putin.

LYDEN: Just quickly, Steven, yesterday President Obama spoke to President Putin and in the conversation, he accused Russia of breeches of international law and threatened greater political and economic isolation. What has been the general response to those remarks?

MYERS: The general response has been fury. The initial statement that President Obama made on Friday night was met with absolute anger. And the debate in the Federation Council yesterday, I would say almost half of it was about President Obama and the United States. And there's a real sense that the United States throws its weight around and is trying to push Russia into a corner or somehow keep Russia down. And people here even once said it was an insult what President Obama said, as though Ukraine weren't even the issue but really an issue between the United States and the West generally, and Russia.

LYDEN: That's New York Times bureau chief Steven Lee Myers in Moscow. Thank you so much.

MYERS: Thank you.

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