DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Ukraine's ousted president appeared at a news conference in southern Russia this morning. Viktor Yanukovych said, quote, "Nobody deposed me." He insisted there should be no military action as Ukraine sorts out its future, but he did say this about Russia and its president.
VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: I think that Russia should and must act, and knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, I am surprised why he is until now still so restrained and not talking.
GREENE: Russia has been carrying out military exercises near Ukraine. U.S. officials have been watching that closely, saying they're not concerned yet. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State John Kerry says he called his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to say he wants to work together to calm tensions in Ukraine.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: And I asked specifically that Russia work with the United States and with our friends and allies in order to support Ukraine, to rebuild unity, security and a healthy economy.
KELEMEN: He says he got assurances from Moscow that it will respect Ukraine's territorial integrity, that its military exercises, long planned, are not aimed at Ukraine, and that it had nothing to do with the Russian flags raised over a local parliament building seized by armed gangs in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
KERRY: We will look to Russia for the choices that it makes in the next days for their confirmation of these statements. Statements are statements, words are words. We have all learned that it's actions and the follow-on choices that make the greatest difference.
KELEMEN: Kerry insists this should not be a Cold War story, a struggle between East and West. But there's a great deal of mistrust of Russia here in Washington. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee says he has been hearing rumors that the Russians might offer passports to Ukrainians who feel more aligned with Moscow. That's what Russia did in a separatist region in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, before Moscow invaded in 2008.
SENATOR BOB CORKER: I was the first U.S. official to fly to Tbilisi when Russia came into Georgia, and the first official to go to up to Gori to witnesses the bombings and what Russia had done with their tanks and other artillery. And what you see happening right now in Ukraine brings back those memories.
KELEMEN: At a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor, Corker pointed out that Russia has even deeper interests in Ukraine than in Georgia, particularly in Crimea, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee member says it's time for the U.S. to stand up to Russia and deter it from seeking, as he puts, a soft partition of Ukraine.
CORKER: You know, right now it appears that the president really doesn't have a plan. As - not to be pejorative, but as with so many other former policy crises, it seems that we're catching up and dealing with events ad hoc as they move along.
KELEMEN: The big question hanging over Ukraine now is the economy. That was an issue Secretary Kerry discussed with his German counterpart, just back from Kiev. Frank-Walter Steinmeier says Ukraine needs to carry out reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund and it needs a reprieve from this dispute between East and West. He spoke through an interpreter.
FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER: (Through translator) The government now has to prove or furnish proof of the fact that it is the government of the whole of Ukraine - the north, the south, the east and the west, that they actually stand up for all those parts of the country.
KELEMEN: While the U.S. welcomed the new technocratic government in Ukraine, Russia dismissed it as a government of winners that includes what it calls extreme nationalists. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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