Kiev Mobilizes Thousands Of Troops, Preparing For Worst
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And in this part of the program, the problem of Crimea. Is it part of Ukraine? Is it independent? Or is it on its way to becoming part of Russia? Election officials on the peninsula say people there voted overwhelmingly yesterday to secede from Ukraine and to join Russia. And today, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Crimea as an independent state.
CORNISH: The U.S. and the European Union called the referendum illegal and are imposing sanctions against Russia. We'll hear from the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine coming up. For its part, Ukraine's interim government says it will not give up Crimea. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Ukraine's capital, Kiev.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It became just a little easier to imagine a conflict between Russia and Ukraine today as journalists were taken to a military base to watch live fire exercise by Ukraine's newly formed national guard.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
BEARDSLEY: I'm on the Ukrainian army base right outside of Kiev. The Ukrainian parliament promised to have 20,000 new national guardsmen within the next week, and this is where they're training them. Over the weekend, Ukraine's parliament approved around $500 million of emergency funding for its military and announced the formation of a 60,000-strong national guard.
Ukraine's government called Sunday's referendum in Crimea a circus show performed at the end of a gun. The country's new defense minister, Igor Tenyukh, didn't mince words when he spoke to the press today.
IGOR TENYUKH: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Crimea is, was and always will be part of Ukraine, said Tenyukh. He called Russia's military presence in Crimea and eastern Ukraine totally illegal. The world, he said, is with us and the Ukrainian military is ready to act. Over the past two weeks, much of Ukraine has watched stunned as Russia's President Vladimir Putin deafly took away part of its territory. People in Kiev see it as a new kind of proxy war. First, Russia sends in provocateurs, paramilitary gangs and thugs to stir up trouble, then Russian soldiers are sent in to protect the Russian-speaking population.
All eyes are now on eastern Ukraine, with its sizeable Russian population. There's a national guard recruitment desk in Kiev's Maidan Square, the still-occupied site of mass protests that toppled the corrupt regime of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Thirty-five-year-old businessman Victor Pavlov is standing in a long line to sign up for duty. I asked him if he doesn't feel too old to fight.
VICTOR PAVLOV: (Through Translator) In 1941, people in your country, businessmen and regular people, also joined the army to fight the Japanese and the Germans. So this is the case in Ukraine now. So now we want to stand together against the foreign aggression.
BEARDSLEY: It's not only the military organizing to resist the Russians, ordinary people are also getting involved. Andrey Slivinskiy is one of them. His car trunk is full of bulletproof vests, walkie-talkies and sparkplugs. He buys gear for the Ukrainian military with money he raises on Facebook. The site, Euro Army Maidan, has brought in tens of thousands of dollars for the underfunded Ukrainian army.
Slivinskiy also listens in on the communications of what he says are Russian provocateurs in the east with the help of an iPhone app. He says what pushed him to act was the fear that Ukraine will become like Russia.
ANDREY SLIVINSKIY: With quite awful relationships between government and people, with absolutely non-transparent businesses and corrupt - even more corrupted than Ukraine, and absolutely absence of respect to democratic rights and right of the regular people.
BEARDSLEY: Anatoliy Hrytsenko was Ukrainian defense minister in 2005. He says the country's military readiness has been compromised by corruption and it cannot face Russia alone. But he says Ukraine can hold its own if the West keeps its commitments, especially the United States and Britain.
ANATOLIY HRYTSENKO: Those two countries back in 1994 signed the security guarantees for Ukraine when we gave up our nuclear weapons.
BEARDSLEY: Hrytsenko says he wants the West the help control the country's borders. He calls on NATO and the West to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine and to protect its Black Sea ports to keep the Russians from invading. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Kiev.