Moscow's Ukraine Looks Different From The One Seen By The West

Russian politicians are all voicing the same narrative: Ukraine's legitimate government was overthrown by neo-Nazis, while the armed men in Crimea are not Russian troops but local self-defense groups.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. More moves came from Russia today signaling it may be preparing to complete its takeover of Crimea. Leaders in Russia's parliament said that if residents of the Ukrainian territory vote to join with Russia, the region would become an equal subject of the Russian federation. That would seem to contradict an assurance earlier this week from President Vladimir Putin, who said that Russia had no intention of annexing Crimea.

It's hardly the first time we've heard contradictory statements from Russian leaders in recent days, as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: On Tuesday, President Putin held a news conference on Ukraine, his first public statement on the crisis since Russian troops took control of Crimea. He began with the Kremlin's main message, that Russia considers the interim government in Kiev to be illegitimate.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) There can be only one assessment. This was an anti-constitutional takeover, an armed seizure of power. Does anyone question this? Nobody does.

FLINTOFF: In fact, of course, Putin is well aware that the United States and the European Union do question his assessment, but among the Russian political leadership, it seems to be virtually unanimous. When Putin requested authorization for a military action in Ukraine from the upper house of parliament, the answer was never in question. But it was an opportunity for the Russian president's allies to raise the claim that the crisis in Ukraine was brewed in the West.

This is Yuri Vorobyov, deputy chairman of the upper house, known as the Federation Council.

YURI VOROBYOV: (Through interpreter) We know that the Maidan fighters in Kiev, and not just in Kiev, were trained in Lithuania and Poland. Now they want to spread their influence and activities to eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

FLINTOFF: President Putin repeated that claim during his news conference, adding that the protesters who fought with police in Kiev received their training in special camps run by Western advisors. The U.S. government rejects so many claims made by Putin and various Kremlin spokespeople that it made the highly unusual move of issuing a State Department fact sheet entitled "President Putin's Fiction: Ten False Claims About Ukraine." The very first item on the list concerns Putin's assertions that troops controlling key government buildings and airports in Crimea are not Russian troops.

The troops wear Russian-style uniforms without insignia, carry advanced Russian weapons and drive vehicles with Russian military license plates.

In an exchange with a reporter, Putin insisted that such uniforms could be bought anywhere and said the troops were, in fact, local Crimean self defense forces. The head of Ukraine's border guard service claimed today that Russia now has about 30,000 troops in Crimea, nearly twice what Ukraine was estimating earlier this week.

Masha Lipman is an editor and analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. She says that because Russian leaders have little political competition and a monopoly on the major news media in their country...

MASHA LIPMAN: The decision makers, top ranking officials, can get away with any statements. Even if they are easily refuted, this does not make any difference politically.

FLINTOFF: Lipman says this attitude is carried over into a sense of impunity in the Russian president's dealings with his foreign counterparts so that, in her words, you see the falsities, but what can you do about it? In broader terms, she says Russia and the West now have diametrically opposite pictures of what's going on in a way that's reminiscent of the Cold War. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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