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Putin Moves Foward With Plans To Annex Crimea


And now, for a reaction from Crimea, we go to NPR's Gregory Warner, who's in the regional capital, Simferopol. Good morning.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, we've just heard that Putin has now all but officially declared Crimea as part of Russia. How is the news being received there?

WARNER: There's a lot of support, and people are supporting for different reasons. Some say that they have been looking forward to this greater Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. And it was interesting that Vladimir Putin mentioned the Soviet Union, and said - sort of expressed that disappointment that I've heard many places on the street here. Other people have expressed that they just want stability from what they see as the chaos in Kiev, and President Putin also spoke to that.

But many people, especially Crimean Tatars, are very worried about this move. They remember a very bad history under Russia, and they're very nervous right now.

MONTAGNE: Although Ellen Barry said that Putin seemed to be saying all the right things about the Tatars. Have you spoken with anyone from that group?

WARNER: You know, I did watch this speech in a cafe. With me was a Crimean Tatar activist. He sort of rolled his eyes during this speech a couple of times, especially when the Russian woman - they showed it on TV, the Russia 24. She was tearing up. It was almost like he was laughing to not cry, because Crimean Tatars are very, very distrustful of what Putin is saying.

He told me he was saying all the right things, but he didn't believe him, and, in fact, that this message was aimed more at the West, to assure people that Russia will take care of minorities. But Crimean Tatars remember being expelled by the Soviet Union in 1944. That history is still very fresh for people.

MONTAGNE: President Obama said he still sees the possibility of a negotiated solution to this crisis. In fact, Russia did make an offer of a negotiated solution yesterday. But what can you tell us about that and how it was received in Ukraine?

WARNER: The offer was to turn Ukraine into a kind of federalist state. So it would be an amalgamation of different semi-autonomous republics, allowing the east, or the Russian-speaking area to have more relationships with Russia and make its own financial and political relationships with Russia.

Obviously, what that does is it retains Russia's control over especially the east, which has a lot of industry and a lot of resources. Because as President Putin made it very clear in his speech, he's interested in Ukraine because Ukraine is part of the greater Russia. And the feeling is that there can be no Russia, a great Russia, without Ukraine.

And so the offer, which was rejected, it still makes people quite worried, because people think, well, maybe he's not planning to invade eastern Ukraine, but certainly, he has designs on it.

MONTAGNE: What happens tomorrow or next week for millions of Crimeans? I gather the clock has been changed.

WARNER: Yeah. So, the ruble is the official currency, and other changes have been made. But there's a lot of uncertainty, especially in the pro-Ukrainian activist community and the Tatar community. People are worried about these self-defense forces. Simferopol is basically an occupied state right now. There are Russian - elite Russian forces walking around. There's Crimean self-defense forces. There's Russian bikers. There are militiamen. There are Russian Cossacks walking around. So there's a lot of people, a lot of armed groups, and the concern is that these people are not going to be listening to the central authority, and have already taken it in their own hands to commit violence against people that they see as being opposed to them.

The thing about Crimean Tatars is that they do look different. They can be noted, and they can be attacked. So there have been already instances of people being attacked, rallies being attacked, and also disappearances, very worrisome disappearances.

MONTAGNE: Greg, thanks very much.

WARNER: Thank you so much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gregory Warner, speaking to us from the capital of Crimea, Simferopol. 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.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.