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Russia Tightens Stranglehold On Crimea


OK. As Michele mentioned, Russia is tightening its control over Crimea. One sign of that: flights to other parts of Ukraine were cut off yesterday. The only flights available now are to Moscow.

Russian troops and pro-Russia militias are also taking over military installations. There is this referendum this weekend on whether Crimeans want to join Russia, but Moscow is sending a pretty clear message ahead of that.

Let's go to Crimea now, and Washington Post reporter Carol Morello, who's on the line from Sevastopol. Carol, good morning.

CAROL MORELLO: Good morning. How are you, David?

GREENE: I'm well. Thank you. So, what is life like in that city right now? How thorough is this Russian presence?

MORELLO: Well, in Sevastopol, which is the home of the Black Sea fleet, it is already like a slice of Russia. People are walking around, waving Russian flags that they buy in supermarkets and bookstores. On government buildings, there are Russian flags. There's a small commercial and cultural center called Moscow House, and there's a sign in the window from the Russian consulate saying that anyone who wants Russian citizenship, please be patient and follow the news. You feel like it is already Russia. The closest thing I've seen to the Ukrainian flag is a yellow and blue straw that I got in a Coca-Cola.

GREENE: The Ukrainian colors were on the straw in your soda.


GREENE: Well, you mentioned the Black Sea fleet, Carol. I mean, that is Russia's Black Sea fleet, which they've had permission to keep in Crimea for years now. But what about Ukrainian military installations? Are Russian troops actually taking over those now, as well?

MORELLO: It sort of depends where you go. Now, I have been to the headquarters for the Ukrainian naval fleet, and every entrance is surrounded by a combination of Russian regular soldiers and the self-defense units, which are locals who have a motley assortment of uniforms that they're wearing. And they are blocking all access. They have wooden pallets leaned against the entrances and the gates and you can't get in. On the hand, I went the other day. There are some Ukrainian ships, military ships, three of them, which essentially are stranded because the harbor is being blocked by a Russian navy ship. And a week ago, there were Russian soldiers. And the next day I went back, there were Russian Cossacks wearing big furry hats. I went there two days ago, and there was no one around. You could walk right down to the ship and stand up and shout questions to the Ukrainian sailors who were aboard. So, it all depends, and it changes from day to day.

GREENE: So, Carol, the Moscow-backed authorities in Crimea who are pro-Russian have scheduled this referendum on the status of the peninsula for Sunday. Is there actually a campaign underway? I mean, are there two sides to this?

MORELLO: Well, there are two sides, but you're only seeing, here, one - very lopsided. In both Sevastopol and in the provincial capital of Simferopol, the only billboards you see around town are in favor of Russia, and sometimes they're pretty crude. The most famous one shows two maps of Crimea, and one of them is draped in the Russian flag, and the other one has a swastika on it. So, in Sevastopol, you don't see any sort of campaign going on at all for people who favor staying with Ukraine. They're intimidated. Some of the activists who feel that way have been beaten up. And they tell me that the only campaigning they're doing is putting flyers in mailboxes. It's a little different in Simferopol. It's not so heavily Russian as Sevastopol is. So there are some sort of sporadic small rallies and press conferences that the opposition is holding.

GREENE: And, Carol, you mention pro-Ukraine activists feeling intimidated. You've written about some who have been rounded up and have disappeared. Can you tell me more about what might be happening to them?

MORELLO: Well, I just saw a piece on one of the local news sites saying that all of the Ukrainian activists and journalists who have been detained have been released. So, you know, people have disappeared, but then a few days later, they seem to show up. It's not always easy to pin down exactly what happened and get definitive explanations. But people periodically have disappeared. So far, everyone who's disappeared has shown up, to my understanding, but things change from day to day here.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to Carol Morello of the Washington Post. She's in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Carol, thanks very much.

MORELLO: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.