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Former Ukrainian President Surfaces With Speech In Russia


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

And we begin with the fast-moving situation in Ukraine. Late this afternoon, President Obama addressed the latest reports to come out of Crimea, the predominantly Russian region in the south of the country.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine.

BLOCK: His statement followed reports today of heavily armed men patrolling two airports in Crimea. While the president stopped short of accusing Russia of intervening, he also said that any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing. And he added this warning.

OBAMA: The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

BLOCK: Earlier today, we reached Financial Times reporter Courtney Weaver in the city of Simferopol, Crimea. I asked her about those armed men at the airport.

COURTNEY WEAVER: I personally saw about 20 armed men patrolling outside the airport. They were in uniforms. They were wearing flak jackets. I talked to a few local militiamen who were patrolling with them and one of them said, you know, that we don't have uniforms like these in Ukraine. But there's no confirmation at this point whether these men are Russian or Russian special service or if they're someone else.

BLOCK: Well, that would be the question, right, were they ordered by Russia to basically take over the airport?

WEAVER: Right, exactly. I mean, you're seeing some pretty eerie parallels to 2008 with the Georgian war. At this point, it seems like Russia is basically doing everything to provoke the new Kiev government without actually leaving anything (unintelligible). So these men that I saw at the airport today, they didn't have any insignia on their uniforms, on the trucks that they came in.

In Crimea, I mean, you have these pro-Russia activists rallying outside the parliament building. The Crimean parliamentary deputies are saying that this is their initiative - this initiative of Crimea. But it seems unlikely that events would have escalated so quickly without some sort of encouragement from the Russians.

BLOCK: And the Associated Press is reporting seeing a convoy of nine Russian armored personnel carriers on the road between Sevastopol, where the Russian navy fleet is based, and the regional capital, Simferopol, where you are. Can you confirm that?

WEAVER: I mean, I can't confirm it at this point. Basically, we've had a lot of reports like this over the past two days. Russia says it's not doing anything wrong, it's not breaking any international laws. It does have a navy base there. And it's saying that everything it does is in accordance with the navy base being in Sevastopol. But it's easy to see how this could quickly escalate into something bigger.

BLOCK: The acting president of Ukraine made a statement late today and said flat out, Russia has sent forces into Crimea. He urged President Putin to stop what he called provocations, and he did draw a parallel to what happened in Georgia when the Russians invaded in 2008. Is that what you're hearing from people there in Crimea? Is that the scenario that they see happening?

WEAVER: Well, a lot - in Simferopol, there are a lot of pro-Russia people and in Sevastopol, even more. It's important to know that there are a number of Crimeans who would like to see Crimea return to Russia. It was part of Russia in the 1950s. Sevastopol, where the navy base is, wasn't gifted to Ukraine until the 1970s. So there are a lot of people here who would like to see Crimea return to Russia, although polling suggests that they're not a strong majority, that they're just over half. But what you do see is you do see political analysts in Kiev saying that this looks a lot like the Georgia scenario.

BLOCK: And when people think about that Georgia scenario, what specter does that raise for people in Ukraine?

WEAVER: I think it's quite frightening because you have a government in Kiev who's been in power for less than a week, just barely a week. There's still a lot of infighting in the opposition in Kiev, and it's just a very delicate time for the country. And to have something like Crimea erupt at a time like this could really destabilize the situation across the country, and really pose a new challenge for the new government. So everyone is watching and waiting to see what's going to happen next.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Courtney Weaver. She's a reporter for the Financial Times in the city of Simferopol. That's in Crimea, Ukraine. Courtney, thanks for talking with us.

WEAVER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.