Is Ukraine's Army Prepared For A War With Russia?

Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Kiev to meet with and show support for officials of a Ukrainian government that's less than a week old. That government is trying to stand firm.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's get an update now on that tense situation in Ukraine. Russia has been gaining more control of the Crimean peninsula. Russia reportedly has some 6,000 troops there after President Vladimir Putin got authorization for military action over the weekend. And this could be just the beginning. Ukrainian border guards say armored vehicles are gathering on the Russian side of a narrow strait across from Crimea. The U.S. and other Western powers condemned Russia's moves, and are signaling they might not attend an economic meeting in Russia this summer. Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Kiev tomorrow to show support for a Ukrainian government that is less than a week old and trying to stand firm. From the Ukrainian capital, here's NPR's Emily Harris.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: At a military office in Kiev, reservists called to check in were admitted one by one yesterday. Twenty-two-year-old Daniyu Podolak says he would fight Russia, if need be, especially after his experience during the recent protests in Kiev.

DANIYU PODOLAK: (Through translator) I'm ready. At Independence Square, we showed we could go up against armed police. We were unprepared, but we knew what we were doing.

HARRIS: Ukraine's army is not prepared for a war, according to Mykola Sungurovsky, director of military programs at Kiev's Razumkov think-tank. But Russian troops in Crimea apparently don't have orders to fight, just surround, block or occupy government or military buildings.

MYKOLA SUNGUROVSKY: (Through translator) In this situation, the Ukrainian army could organize quite effective resistance to Russian forces. But such a state could last only to a certain moment, that is, until the first shot is fired. In the case of a full-scale war, the Ukrainian army by itself would of course not be able to hold out against Russian troops.

OLKESIY HARAN: You see, it's not necessary to be done by army. We know now how to prepare Molotov cocktails.

HARRIS: Olkesiy Haran is a professor of politics at Kiev-Mohyla Academy. He believes Ukrainian civilians would try to fight a guerrilla war, if it came that. But he acknowledges Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't need a decisive military victory, just enough conflict to keep a Russian foothold for years, as has happened in other places.

HARAN: What Putin wants, you know, to create one more black hole, grey zone, like Transdniester or Abkhasia or South Ossettia. But here, they are not going to subdue to Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: Some might. Yesterday, a video showed the commander of Ukraine's navy pledging allegiance to the pro-Moscow, newly declared prime minister of Crimea. Immediately after, the Kiev government said he'd already been fired and reportedly could be charged with treason. Ukraine's government is now five days old. Political analyst Oleksiy Melnyk says this crisis could turn out to help new leaders.

OLKESIY MELNYK: Some people say thank you, Mr. Putin, for doing our job. Because what he done for uniting Ukrainian society, for forming Ukrainian civil society, that's probably amazing and probably would take years and years for our politicians, but he just done it like this.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

HARRIS: Ukraine's national anthem echoed off the tall buildings surrounding Kiev's Independence Square during a packed rally yesterday. Wrapped in Ukraine's blue-and-yellow flag, Nataliya Nazarchuk says her country must stand up to Russia by all means possible.

NATALIYA NAZARCHUK: (Through translator) We don't have an option. Because after Crimea, what's the guarantee that Putin wouldn't want something else? Sure, we could give up Crimea. But would you hand over Europe? That is the question.

HARRIS: A question, she says, for the world to answer. Emily Harris, NPR News, Kiev.

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