Russia's watching Ukraine closely — but only watching, for now

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Carol Hills: We also wanted to find out how Russians are reacting to events in Ukraine, so we called up Julia Ioffe, senior editor with The New Republic. We caught up with her in Sochi where she's covering the Olympics. Unlike many of her colleagues, she's not hopping on a plane for Kiev today, but she is watching Russian state media and how it's spinning the violence in the Ukraine. Julia Ioffe: Mostly on Russian TV you're seeing reports that this is a band of radicals, right wing fascists who are trying to stage a violent coup, who are trying to overthrow a legitimate democratically elected government with peaceful stuck in between and held hostage by the radicals. The only casualties we hear about are policemen and special forces officers. We hear very little about the civilians who have been killed, and Russian leaders are very much sticking to the line that this is a coup going on and that the Ukrainian government has every right to use force to protect the law enforcement agencies - not the citizens - but the law enforcement agencies. Hills: So it's very much a kind of Law and Order view. What are Russia's interests in Ukraine today? Ioffe: They're mostly geopolitical and economic. Very famously, Vladimir Putin is said to have said to George W. Bush back in 2008 that Ukraine is not a real country. He sees the Ukraine very much as an extension of Russia, as basically a province of Russia that by an accident of history has its own borders and its own government and its own foreign policy. It's even called "Little Russia" or "Minor Russia" by people in some circles here. There is a geopolitical component to it about not letting NATO and the Europe Union expand to Russia's doorstep. It also goes deeper than that. It's about protecting Slavik brethren, not letting them fall under the sway of Europe. Hills: What are Putin's options regarding Ukraine? What can he realistically do to influence the outcome there in his favor? Ioffe: He can do a lot. He's doing a lot now. He's giving them lots of money, billions of dollars, and Ukraine really needs that money. It's not doing that well economically. Hills: What about now, this actual crisis. What can he do to influence the outcome of the bloodshed and violence going on in the Square? Ioffe: I think he can give Yanukovych the sense that he's behind him. He can always send reinforcements, provide equipment, training, but I think it's mostly the money and political support, which I think goes a long way with Yanukovych. Hills: You mentioned yourself of the Russian media pushing this, "Our brethren" and the Ukraine and pushing those historic ties. Is there any talk of Russia intervening directly to restore order or to protect ethnic Russians? Ioffe: People are kind of hinting at it obliquely and there's allusions to it and people keep waiting for the headlines for the news to flash across the wire that the Russians are going to intervene, but so far there hasn't been any talk of this. I doubt Russia wants to do this, but as we've seen in Georgia, when it comes to Russia's near abroad and its backyard, it's not loath to put its money or soldiers where its mouth is. Hills: Julia Ioffe is a senior editor with The New Republic. She's been speaking to us from Sochi. Thanks so much Julia. Ioffe: Thank you for having me.