Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. The good news? Your country just got a billion dollar aid package. The bad news? Your next door neighbor is looking like he might invade you. That's Ukraine's outlook today. First, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he reserves the right to use military force in Ukraine. Then Secretary of State John Kerry showed up in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, with a billion dollars in loan guarantees for the country, and this:
John Kerry: "I come here today at the instruction of President Obama to make it absolutely clear that the United States of America would prefer to see this de-escalated."
Werman: The BBC's David Stern is also in Kiev today. He says the US loan guarantees come at a good time for Ukraine.
David Stern: Well Ukraine, in addition to its numerous problems, obviously in Crimea and in the east of the country and the fact that the new government has to assert its authority, also is facing an economic crisis. They're facing default and they have a very large gas bill, in fact, that they have to pay to the Russian monopoly, Gazprom. This has been a chronic problem for them, so the one billion dollars will come in very handedly. It's not going to cover all of their debts or all their problems at the moment, but it does go a long way, and it obviously will help stabilize the economy somewhat. So I imagine that this is very welcomed news indeed, but of course the Ukrainians are looking for more than just money from the West and from the United States.
Werman: What does Ukraine really need right now?
Stern: Ukraine is facing this growing crisis in Crimea and there's a recognition that they don't have the political or the diplomatic or the military means to face down Russia. They're a country of 45 million, with an army that's dwarfed by Russia, should this become a conflict. But even then, they can't really threaten anything. They've been very studiously, very assiduously trying not to give Russia an excuse or a pretext. They said they will not fire the first shot. But at the same time, they say they need Western help and so they're looking for something. It's not clear exactly what, but something with teeth in it. Sanctions, bank account freezes, something that will hit Russia, if not the country and the economy, then at least the leadership, and make them think twice about anything that they might be planning or force them back into the bases on the Crimean peninsula.
Werman: So lots to be concerned about in Kiev. What is the biggest worry on the street today?
Stern: The biggest worry is war. This is, without a doubt, the ongoing crisis. People are very much afraid that this is what it's going to turn into. It's not just a question of what Russia's intentions are. They're afraid that a stray bullet or an unintended incident could spark this tinderbox. So there's any number of things that could happen but most of all, people, when I talk to them, they are extremely afraid that what Russia wants is a war with Ukraine. But they also say that they will fight if it comes to that.
Werman: We heard from John Kerry a moment ago. He's in Kiev. How's that visit been viewed by protesters in the interim government there?
Stern: He was received very well. In independent Square, as you've heard, he said "We're going to help you," or "We are helping you," and that they're planning for more assistance. He visited the barricades here that are still up and he visited one of the shrines, the many, many, many shrines that are around Independent Square and elsewhere, where the protesters were killed. So there is a feeling of hope but also the Ukrainians have learned to be a bit cautious about Western assistance. As you remember, this has been going on for more than three months. For the most part, what they've been getting from the West and the European Union are expressions of concern or expressions of condemnation but now what they're really looking for is something finite and as I say, something with teeth.
Werman: I'm sure that one billion dollar loan guarantee is going to be helpful but what are the protesters asking the US to do? What can the US do at this point?
Stern: It's not really clear. I think the protesters, as I say, they're looking for something but they're really not sure themselves. They are looking for something that will push Russia to make a decision to de-escalate, as they say, to stand down. But the big question is what is that? I think the US and European policy advisers aren't clear about that either. There's a hope perhaps that the United States and European Union have enough wherewithal, enough creativity, that they can come up with a package that will push Mr. Putin to change his mind. But of course Mr. Putin probably has figured this into his calculus and may be ready for whatever the West delivers to him.
Werman: The BBC's David Stern there in Kiev. Andranik Migranyan directs the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. It's a Russian funded think tank in New York with close ties to the Kremlin. He rejects the accusation that Russia has acted irresponsibly in Crimea.
Andranik Migranyan: There is no invasion and this is the reality. According to the treaty between Ukraine and Russia, Russia has a legitimate right to have up to 25,000 troops and now Russia has a little more than 10,000.
Werman: And yet Putin has not ruled out further military action, so the world has to believe that invasion is still on the table.
Migranyan: That's true. Nothing is off the table. If he asks the upper house of Russian parliament to give him this authority, it means that these are not just empty words, it's a reality. But as he mentioned, and his press secretary, Peskov mentioned, it's one thing to have the right to something and it's another thing to implement the right. This means that if nothing threatened the life and security of Russian citizens and Russian speakers, there is no need for the use of force.
Werman: In the mean time, President Obama said today that Russia's action in Ukraine will drive other countries away from Russia's sphere of influence and we're hearing, indeed, from Western Europe that while they may be uncertain about how to respond to Russia right now, they're more suspicious of Putin today than they were a month ago.
Migranyan: Putin didn't show any aggressive actions. If Western leaders and media were very enthusiastic about a so-called appraisal of nation against tyrannical rule, which sounds very funny, because Midone and mobsters are practically commanding the parade in Kiev. Putin didn't do anything, that's why I couldn't understand what the problem is for Westerners. What's the reason for this kind of reaction?
Werman: Regardless of how you view the narrative in Kiev, you have to recognize, you have to admit that Putin is isolated today.
Migranyan: He is not isolated. Listen, this is not the early '90's. Russia is not in shambles. Russia doesn't have a president that's always drunk and hanging around, begging for financial and political support and not all roads go to Washington or Brussels now. There are other roads going to Beijing, to New Delhi, to other places and the world is becoming different. Every authority, every president who would like to be respected would act similar to how Putin is acting in this moment: very responsible but very resolute and very determined to act if there is a threat for Russian citizens and their security.
Werman: Mr. Migranyan, how worried are you right now?
Migranyan: I am very worried -
Werman: Worried about what?
Migranyan: I am worried in the West of Ukraine and in the West in general, there'll be miscalculations of current situations. Some diplomats and politicians are far away from reality. They can miscalculate and mistreat the situation and they can especially overestimate their leverage and create a serious tension.
Werman: Andranik Migranyan directs the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York. It's a Russian funded think tank with close ties to Russia's leadership. Thanks very much for your time.
Migranyan: Thank you for having me.