* TV anchor is Kremlin's pick to head new agency
* Russian media steps up war of words over Crimea
By Lidia Kelly
MOSCOW, March 16 A Kremlin-backed journalist
issued a stark warning to the United States about Moscow's
nuclear capabilities on Sunday as the White House threatened
sanctions over Crimea's referendum on union with Russia.
"Russia is the only country in the world that is
realistically capable of turning the United States into
radioactive ash," television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said on
his weekly current affairs show.
Behind him was a backdrop of a mushroom cloud following a
Kiselyov was named by President Vladimir Putin in December
as the head of a new state news agency whose task will be to
portray Russia in the best possible light.
His remarks took a propaganda war over events in Ukraine to
a new level as tensions rise in the East-West standoff over
Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region which is now in Russian
forces' hands and voted on Sunday on union with Russia.
Russian television showed images of ethnic Russians in
Crimea dancing, singing and celebrating the referendum but
followed them with accusations that Kiev's new authorities and
the West have allowed ultra-nationalists to attack
Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev and the West blame the violence in eastern Ukraine on
pro-Russian groups and say the Crimea referendum is
illegitimate. The United States has warned of imminent sanctions
Kiselyov is an outspoken defender of Putin and once caused
outrage by saying the organs of homosexuals should not be used
His show portrayed the Ukrainian authorities as unable to
maintain law and order. Putin made a similar charge in a
telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama on
Such remarks have caused concern in Kiev that Moscow might
send troops to eastern Ukraine, acting on a vote in Russian
parliament allowing him to use the armed forces if compatriots
are deemed in need of protection in Ukraine.
As the crisis escalated, the news in Russia has taken on
shades of Soviet-era propaganda, with reporters peppering
reports with references to what they say was the cooperation of
some Ukrainians with the Nazis in World War Two.
There is also now growing menace in some of the reports, as
well as echoes of the Cold War.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine in
1954, when Ukraine and Russia were both parts of the Soviet
Many people in Crimea hope union with Russia will bring
better living conditions and make them citizens of a country
capable of asserting itself on the world stage.
Others see the referendum as a land grab by the Kremlin as
Ukraine's new rulers try to move the country towards the
European Union and away from Russia's sway.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Lidia
Kelly, Editing by Timothy Heritage)