Locals Join Crimean Defense Forces, Allied With Russia

In Ukraine, tensions are high in the Crimean Peninsula. NPR's Emily Harris reports on the swearing in of new members to the Crimean defense force.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

President Obama spoke with half a dozen European leaders today about the situation in Ukraine but announced no new sanctions or strategies to solve the crisis. Meanwhile, more Russian troops were seen entering Crimea. Local so-called self-defense forces have been working with Russian soldiers. Today, some of them were sworn in as a new Crimean army.

From Simferopol, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: When Crimea's new prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, arrived at Simferopol's World War II monument, the 150 self-defense troops already there broke into applause and chants of Crimea-Russia.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: Everyone was waiting for several dozen men due to take an oath of loyalty to the previously non-existent Crimean armed forces. Despite the chilly air, an older man told a younger one to turn down the furry collar of his camouflage jacket.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: Like a partisan, he said, you're a warrior. Crimea's self-defense troops have been generally unarmed. They've stationed themselves outside many government buildings, some with armed Russian soldiers inside. Today, the Crimean prime minister created a new force allied with Russia.

SERGEI AKSYONOV: (Through translator) The first squadron of the military forces of Crimea will be sworn in. They're getting out of the bus now, they're in uniform, and they'll march in formation. They're all armed. It's an amazing day.

HARRIS: Then he got on his cellphone and said in a low voice, what are you guys standing there for? Come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HARRIS: They came - two rows of men in green fatigues and black boots, carrying AK-47 automatic rifles. One by one, they stepped up and swore to defend Crimea.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: Many taking the oath have served before, not Crimea, but the Soviet military. This new job is part time. Two blocks away, a full-time Ukrainian colonel, loyal to Kiev, stood on the lawn of Ukraine's Coast Guard headquarters. His troops are there to keep Russian troops out. He didn't think much of this new Crimean force.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: (Through translator) Military forces can belong only to governments. I don't know of any country called Crimea. No government in the world has recognized such a country. If there is a Crimean military, it's an illegal militia.

HARRIS: Those were fighting words to a retired military man passing by.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: What this baloney you say, the old man yelled. Have I insulted you, the colonel replied. You insulted me personally, said the retired man. I did not insult you, the colonel said, but you are insulting me. He had taken an oath of loyalty to Ukraine, he said, but like many people here, is closely connected to Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: (Through translator) By nationality, I'm Ukrainian. I was born in Ukraine. But my father was an officer in the Soviet army. I graduated from a Russian military academy. Most of my relatives are in Russia. Now, you tell me I'm some kind of jerk? I know it's all emotional, but I am offended. In Crimea, I want one thing: peace and quiet.

HARRIS: No real fighting has happened yet in Crimea, but behind the tense posturing and positioning on this little peninsula is a standoff of world powers. Emily Harris, NPR News.

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