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Violence In Crimea Casts Shadow On New Ukrainian Cabinet


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


And I'm Audie Cornish. Ukraine's new government was installed today, but it was completely overshadowed by events in the majority Russian Crimea. Armed men took over two government buildings in the Crimean capital and hoisted a Russian flag over the parliament. Meanwhile, the fugitive former president, Viktor Yanukovych, appeared to resurface in Russia, releasing a written statement declaring himself to be the legitimate leader of Ukraine.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is following events from Kiev and joins us now. And Peter, first, what can you tell us about the seizure of the Crimean parliament.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, before dawn, armed men arrived at the parliament building. There had been some testy demonstrating there the day before and they've barricaded themselves in. There was no official claim of responsibility, but certainly the pro-Russian Crimeans who gathered outside to cheer them on believe it's the work of a separatist movement wanting what they call unity with Russia.

The view in majority Russian Crimea is that armed factions in Kiev had toppled President Viktor Yanukovych and so they argue that they're entitled to do something similar in Crimea. Now, later in the day, the regional parliament announced its intention to place a referendum on the ballot May 25, that's when they vote on presidential elections around Ukraine, asking Crimeans in specific, whether they want to significantly expand the peninsula's autonomy by declaring state sovereignty.

Now, I can't tell you exactly what that means or even if this referendum will be added to the ballot, but it gives you a sense of how strong the pro-Russian feelings are there.

CORNISH: And Moscow, meanwhile, has reportedly granted Viktor Yanukovych's request for protection and, of course, now with this statement, he appears to be weighing in on the situation. Tell us more about what he had to say.

KENYON: Well, first, the short answer, there's been no confirmed sighting of Yanukovych yet in Russia or elsewhere. This written statement purported to be from him was sent to major Russian news outlets and it declares that Yanukovych says he's still president and he appeared to refer to the parliament takeover, saying now we can see that southeastern Ukraine and Crimea aren't going to tolerate this lawlessness.

And then later, the Russian RIA Novosti Agency reported that Yanukovych is going to hold a news conference tomorrow in a place called Rostov-on-Don. That's a southern Russian town quite close to the Ukrainian border. So presumably sometime tomorrow we'll have confirmation of where Yanukovych is and perhaps his intentions.

CORNISH: Peter, what are people there saying about how volatile the situation is in as far as potential Russian intervention?

KENYON: Well, the troop movements on the border have people very worried here. There was a video this morning showing armored vehicles, apparently moving towards Simferopol, the site of the seized building. They did turn around, but it was an unnerving sight to say the least. If and when Viktor Yanukovych holds his news conference, will he ask Eastern Ukrainians to resist? Will he make a request to Moscow to intervene? A lot of possibilities, none of them very good.

Now, on the positive side, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are talking about cooperation. Of course, if that resolution involves returning Yanukovych to power, that could cause a whole 'nother set of problems.

CORNISH: In the meantime, Ukraine's new interim government had its first day in office. What are the tasks ahead for them?

KENYON: Well, in the words of new interim minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, welcome to hell. Not only is this country worried about armed turmoil, possible division, the economy is just about collapsed. The IMF doesn't seem to be in a big hurry. They've had very bad experiences in the past with Ukraine. A fact-finding team may show up next week. Yatsenyuk, meanwhile, says $70 billion has been drained from the financial system and put into offshore accounts over the past three years.

So, in any case, the officials say they need about $35 billion to get through this debt crisis so things are very bad indeed.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking to us from Kiev. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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