HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about this intensifying crisis, we are joined via Skype by Peter Leonard of the Associated Press. So tell us, what are you hearing, what are you seeing right now?
PETER LEONARD: Well earlier today I was in the town of Slovyansk which is about an hour and a half’s drive from here, which has been occupied as of yesterday by a group of armed gunmen.
What was rather interesting about what we saw today as opposed to yesterday — yesterday we saw groups of men in camouflage, clearly well trained and well prepared for their seizure of the police station and later in the day the security services.
But those people have since been replaced by what are jerkingly referred to as “concerned locals” — local people, many armed with guns.
This is a pattern we have been seeing in Eastern Ukraine over the last week, that’s to say the seizure of government buildings and the consolidation of the occupation by local protestors.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So when you talk to the local people out there, what’s the mood? Do they think a showdown is imminent? Do they think they will be annexed by Russia?
PETER LEONARD: Many of the locals who tend to gather around the seized buildings themselves tend to be very enthusiastic about the notion of autonomy first and then presumably annexation by Russia in the future.
It’s very dangerous to assume that that reflects actually the general opinion in this part of the country, in fact polling suggests that the prospect of annexation by Russia is in fact not one that most people would welcome.
The mood is I would say extremely tense. Journalists in particular — not to speak of Ukrainian journalists coming from the capitol– have faced consistent aggression, not only from the armed men who have seized these buildings but also from the local population who consider the Western media to be somehow complicit in what they deem to be a broad Western community’s attempt to undermine Ukraine.
This is the outcome of essentially of very sustained Russian state television coverage of events in Ukraine which have basically painted the political crisis in Ukraine as the outcome of what they would describe as “Western meddling.”
HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the prospects that there might be large-scale anti-terrorism action taken by Ukraine?
PETER LEONARD: What this points to essentially is the fact that government seems to have lost control of parts of the east to the extent that they don’t really appear to have control over the police in any meaningful fashion. And as a result it would seem that as of today they would have to resort to deploying the army in order to regain full control over this part of the country.
This obviously takes the whole situation from one of a law enforcement issue — which they’ve proven short of the task of actually coping with — to potentially a military offensive. And that seems like a very serious and worrying step indeed.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Peter Leonard joining us from Donetsk tonight, thank you.
PETER LEONARD: Thank you.