Putin puts Russian troops on alert amid Ukraine separatist fears
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 01:57
Feb. 26 - Russian President Vladimir Putin puts Russian combat troops on high alert for war games near Ukraine, amid fears of Crimean separatism in the Russian-speaking east of the country. Mana Rabiee reports.
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In Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking Crimea, in the east, trouble is brewing.
On Wednesday, supporters of Ukraine's new government, many of them ethnic Tatars, converged outside the regional parliament.
They were met with a rival demonstration by pro-Russian separatists, many of them ethnic Russians.
The separatists want Crimea to secede from Ukraine... or even becomes a part of Russia again, like it had been until the 1950's.
The rallies come the same day the national government disbanded the riot police force.
The force is called Berkut, and is blamed for most of the deaths in last week's spasm of violence.
But the move to disband them upset these Crimeans, who set up camp outside a Berkut police barracks.
(SOUNDBITE) (Russian) ACTIVIST YEGOR, SAYING:
"Crimea supports Berkut. Our slogan is: Berkut with the people. People with the Berkut."
(SOUNDBITE) (Russian) ACTIVIST ALEXANDER, SAYING:
"I'm here to support our guys…This is why I'm here. The guys are not responsible for our corrupt government behaving that way."
In Kiev, protesters who helped topple the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, vow Ukraine won't be divided.
They say all this separatism talk is coming from Russian-speaking leaders who want to split up the country.
(SOUNDBITE) (Ukraine) KIEV RESIDENT, VIKTOR TYMCHENKO, SAYING:
"There is no fear between countries. There is no fear between people, and there is just fear between politicians."
But tensions were high on Wednesday.
Pro-Russian protesters raised the Russian flag over city hall in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin put some 150,000 troops on high alert for war games near Ukraine.
Moscow says the military drills aren't linked to events in Ukraine.
But any military action here would be serious.
It would be the closest Russia and the West have come to outright confrontation since the Cold War.
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