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Friday, February 28, 2014

What Are Russia’s Intentions Toward Ukraine?

Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport, on February 28, 2014. Ukraine accused today Russia of staging an 'armed invasion' of Crimea and appealed to the West to guarantee its territorial integrity after pro-Moscow gunmen took control of the peninsula's main airport. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport in Crimea, on February 28, 2014. Ukraine accused today Russia of staging an ‘armed invasion’ of Crimea. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

What are Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine? That question has grown more urgent this week.

Today, Ukraine’s new interior minister is accusing Russia of “military invasion and occupation,” saying Russian troops have taken up positions at two airports and a Coast Guard base in the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Yesterday, armed men overran the Crimean parliament and raised a Russian flag over the building.

Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have remained largely silent about Ukraine, though Ukraine’s ousted president Victor Yanukovich fled there last week.

Yanukovich spoke to reporters today, insisting he is still the legitimate president of the country, and that he intends to “keep fighting for the future of Ukraine.”

He said he was not calling for military intervention from his Russian hosts, but when asked about Russia’s role in Ukraine, he said Russia “should and must act.”

Andrew Weiss, who was an adviser to both presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush on Ukraine and Russia, joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine.

Interview Highlights: Andrew Weiss

On Russia’s current stance toward Ukraine

“Russian official position is that Yanukovich remains the legitimate president, and that the new president took power by a coup d’etat. So the Russian government has not recognized the new government. They’ve withdrawn their ambassador, and what we’ve seen on the ground in Crimea over the past couple days are a very sort of chilling and interesting set of moves that seem to suggest, although there’s no firm proof, that the Russian government is basically trying to cut off part of Ukraine’s territory from the government in Kiev and say this part of Ukraine, the Crimea, is basically going to be autonomous. They’ll hold a referendum at the end of May that will somehow solidify that autonomous status, which is already part of the legal status of Crimea. And a cavalcade of prominent Russian politicians, including the famous nationalist leader [Vladimir] Zhirinovsky, have arrived on the ground in Crimea. So there’s kind of a serious geopolitical drama and political theater, all of which is very dangerous. And I’ll end here, because there are a lot more people in Ukraine today with guns than there were a week ago. It’s a very, very fluid situation.”

On international hesitancy to intervene

“Moscow has plenty of options. I think the problem is that the West has very few. So the Ukrainian government is now rushing around, trying to find international support. It’s a government that, in many ways, is just struggling to turn the lights on, having just named its interim government yesterday, and getting ready for presidential elections at the end of May. The U.S., the European governments are all expressing outrage and concern, but no one’s about to about to go to war for Crimea, and no one’s going to go to war to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The question is, can we get both sides, or all three sides, if we understand there are people in Crimea who may be acting independently, to sort of back off and avoid further confrontation. Ukraine nearly fell into civil war last week, we have to remember. The situation is incredibly delicate.”

His take on Yanukovich’s statements 

“It was a sad, pathetic spectacle. It really made one think that ‘Baghdad Bob’ had reemerged and was now based in the southern Russian city of Rostov-na-Donu. You have a person in Yanukovich who’s basically completely yesterday’s news. He was removed from power about a week ago. He had led, you know, a brutal crackdown on demonstrators in his capital city, and there he was today on TV, insisting that the bad stuff happened after he signed an agreement with three European Union moderators and the opposition. So, again, it was an exercise in political theater, and it was a pretty pathetic one at that.”

Guest

  • Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington and Moscow on Russia and Eurasia. He was director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. He tweets @andrewsweiss.

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