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Deadly Violence Breaks Out At Crimean Military Base


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


I'm Robert Siegel.

On Sunday, Crimea was part of Ukraine. Yesterday, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Crimea was an independent country. And today Putin and Crimean officials signed a treaty to make the peninsula part of Russia. We're going to hear a Russian view of these events coming up.

CORNISH: First, to Crimea, where today's announcement was celebrated with fireworks. There was also deadly gunfire, as a Ukrainian military base was attacked. An officer was killed and Ukraine's defense minister has now authorized the use of force in self-defense. NPR's Gregory Warner is there and joins us. And Gregory, you just came back from the base. What more can you tell us?

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Well, this base, like all Ukrainian bases, are - is blocked or controlled by Russian forces and Crimean self-defense forces. So what happened today, according to the Ukrainian ministry of defense, is Russians attacked the base with snipers. One officer was killed, as you mentioned. Now, I talked to one military source who's more closely aligned with the Crimean government. He said that it wasn't Russians but Crimean self-defense forces, in fact. Russians stopped it. The irony, of course, is this happened just hours after President Putin expressly thanked the Ukrainian military for avoiding needless bloodshed.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned, Ukraine's defense minister has authorized his forces in Crimea to use their weapons. What's going to happen to these troops?

WARNER: Look, that's even if they have weapons, this particular base that was attacked was a cartography center. It had military maps. Kiev clearly does not want to back down. They don't want to just turn tail and run. And they've made increasingly bellicose rhetoric in the past 24, 48 hours. Russians have been the aggressors here and they have a vastly superior army. So if these Ukrainian soldiers become pawns in the standoff, it doesn't look good.

CORNISH: We've heard that many Crimeans celebrated after Putin made his announcement in Moscow. Is the transition of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia already underway?

WARNER: Oh, this has been the fastest transition, I think, that I've ever seen. Yesterday, the ruble was declared the currency. The country went on Moscow time as of - that starts in two weeks. And that's caused a lot of problems. I talked to a Ukrainian legal aid lawyer. She said the worst part about this transition is this current state of legal limbo, which she called lawlessness, in which climate, these so-called Crimean self-defense forces, have been really free to impose their own laws.

And another speedy transition that people are worried about it passports. So there was an announcement today that all Crimeans will be issued Russian passports in a month. But if you want to keep your Ukrainian passport, you have to apply to some yet-to-be-determined special office. Now, that's prompted a lot of concern among some that once they're on that list of loyal Ukrainians, they'll be treated as traitors in Russian Crimea, or at least discriminated against, maybe put on a blacklist, denied employment.

And to be on that list is a very scary thing, especially now because there are reports of people disappearing each day, sometimes journalists, sometimes activists. Now some of these people have been released but many are missing. In fact, there was a rally today about these disappeared and disappearing journalists.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, President Putin said that there's not going to be an attack on mainland Ukraine as some feared. Has that put people at ease?

WARNER: You know, not really. I mean, some, of course, they have considerable distrust for what President Putin says. And just to be here in Crimea is really to appreciate just how militarized a zone this has become in the past three weeks. You have elite Russian forces. You have Cossacks, Russian biker gangs. Many people, of course, see these forces as protectors. Others see them as occupiers.

The real question is the longer that Crimea remains a haven for these military and paramilitary forces, the greater the fear that that violence will spread. And I will say that when I've talked to people here, they do express a strong desire for the United States to intervene militarily before Russia goes further. I don't think that that's likely at all. But that's what people ask for.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Gregory Warner in Crimea. Gregory, thank you.

WARNER: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.