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Unknown Military Forces Blockade Crimean Airports; U.S. Warns Russia Against Military Action in Ukraine

Aired February 28, 2014 - 8:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong and welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet.

Ukraine's interior minister claims armed men patrolling and airport in the south are Russian forces.

The Guardian newspaper says British spies with the aid of the Americans collected digital images from the webcam chats of Yahoo users.

And, a look at a smartphone designed all around security and privacy. It's called the Black Phone.

Fast moving developments in southern Ukraine's Crimea region. Armed men were seen patrolling the main airport in Simferapol.

Now Ukraine's interior minister claims that they are Russian forces. And he also says armed men are blocking an airbase in Sevastopol. But it is still unclear exactly who they are and who sent them.

Now this comes one day after the Crimean regional parliament was taken over by gunmen who raised the Russian flag. And Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, he is thought to be in Russia right now. He is expected to speak at a news conference any time now.

You're looking at a live shot of the room where Viktor Yanukovych is expected to speak. And we'll try to bring it to you when it happens live.

Now our Diana Magnay is at one of those airports in Crimea where men in military uniform have been standing guard. And she filed this report earlier.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm at the airport a Simferapol here in the capital of Crimea. And overnight, armed gunmen came and started patrolling the airport grounds. There are plenty of them still here as you can see. Now they seem to be going in and out of the main restaurant building.

And I'll just move aside. These men standing in a line in front of them say they are from a pro-Russian party called the Russian Unity Party and that they're here on the commands of the new leader of the Crimean parliament Serghii Aksyonov to maintain public order. They say they don't know who the guys in military fatigues are.

But we've just arrived at this airport. Operations are functioning normally.

Now Ukraine's acting interior minister says that armed men have also taken control of a second airport in Crimea, in Sevastopol, Belbek International Airport. He says that this is an invasion by the Russians of Ukrainian territory.

It is difficult, though, to tell exactly who they are, of course. Crimea itself has long had a separatist instinct. It is largely pro- Russian, or there is a significant pro-Russian majority here. And on Thursday, in the Parliament it was decided that on the same day as there will be held national elections in Ukraine, people in Crimea will be able to decide whether they want to be a part of the new Ukraine or whether they want to be their own separatist state.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Simferapol, Ukraine.


LU STOUT: Now, officials in Kiev have been pointing fingers at Moscow, accusing it of fomenting the unrest. Fred Pleitgen is in the Russian capital. He joins me now live. And Fred, how is Russia responding to that accusation that it is taken over, or blocked these airports in Crimea?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far the Russians are saying that it's naval forces -- and there's a lot of them down there in the Sevastopol area that are in no way part of what was going on at those airports. However, they are also saying that the anti-terror forces that they have there are on heightened alert and have been checking a lot of the areas where Russian forces and their families live.

Now what we have to know, especially about the Sevastopol region is that there's about 25,000 Russian troops that are stationed there at all times. It's a very large Russian naval base. There's also a bunch of army bases around there, as Diana said. There's that airfield, which is sort of a dual use military as well as civilian. So there are a lot of Russian interests there as well as, of course, a population that's about 60 percent Russian as well.

So the Russians are making no secret about the fact that this territory is very important to them, that they're monitoring the situation very closely. But they are also so far at least not admitting that these gunmen that are there at that airport are Russian forces. And they are certainly saying that so far they're not doing anything out of the ordinary.

At the same time, of course Kristie, we always have to mention that there is a massive Russian military exercise going on just right next door that involves some 880 tanks as well as jets and helicopters. And so they do have huge military assets there. Whether or not any of them have crossed the border, whether or not maybe some of these forces that are stationed in Sevastopol are doing something extraordinary, we simply don't know at this point.

The Russians certainly are not giving very much information except for saying that their naval fleet troops are in no way part of what's going on at that airport, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Also, Viktor Yanukovych, he is due to speak live this hour in Russia. When it happens, it'll be the first time the world has seen him since he fled Kiev. What is he likely to say?

PLEITGEN: Well, what he's likely to say is interesting. And also the setting is interesting as well. We showed that live picture just a couple of minutes ago of the room where that press conference is going to take place. And what we saw there -- and we see again now on this live picture, is that there's Ukrainian flags behind them.

So clearly, he's not someone who is going to speak as someone who believes he's the former Ukrainian president, he is speaking as though he is still the acting Ukrainian president.

In a statement that was attributed to him, which wasn't confirmed, he did say yesterday apparently that he still believes that he's the legitimate president of the Ukraine, that he was voted into office and the people who ousted him from office are extremists bandits (ph) and fascist the way he said.

So, if anything, we'll probably expect him to go down the same lines. We'll expect him to say that he still sees himself as the leader of that country. And he's going to obviously denounce the new leadership of the country, whether or not he's going to try and fan what's going on there in the Crimean is really up in the air.

One of the things that's been clear from our perspective, from having been in that region over the past couple of days is that even among the Russian speaking population, among the Russian population in the Crimean as well as in Eastern Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych does not seem to have very much backing there. There's a lot of Russians who see him as they say as a coward and someone who sold out the security forces during the events that happened in Ukraine last week when the security forces and the protesters there squared off.

So he clearly doesn't have very much backing from both sides. So it'll be interesting to see what sort of demands he makes and what sort of posture he has as well, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, not a great amount of support back home in Ukraine. And it'll be interesting to see, now Yanukovych in exile in Russia when and if he speaks this hour with his Ukrainian flags behind him. Thank you for pointing that out for us.

Fred Pleitgen joining us live from Moscow, thank you.

Now increasing concerns over this east-west tug of war in Crimea have led the U.S. to warn Russia to avoid any provocations. Barbara Starr has more from Washington.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at NATO headquarters suddenly the cold warrior.

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm closely watching Russia's military exercises along the Ukrainian border.

STARR: Warning Moscow.

HAGEL: I expect Russia to be transparent about these activities, and I urge them not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation during a very delicate time, a time of great tension.

STARR: So far, Russia has not moved significant forces off their bases near the Ukraine border, but, by the weekend, the U.S. expects nearly 150,000 Russian troops conducting war games close to that border.

If -- and it's a big if -- Russian President Vladimir Putin were to order his troops into Ukraine, they could move in so quickly, the U.S. might not know right away it's happening, one U.S. official telling CNN, "Our warning time is cut to zero."

And that makes it impossible for last-minute U.S. diplomatic pressure. So it's a full-court press now to make sure Russia doesn't go back on its promise to respect Ukraine's sovereignty.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe that everybody now needs to step back and avoid any kind of provocations. And we want to see in the next days ahead, obviously, that the choices Russia makes conform to this affirmation.

STARR: The U.S. intelligence assessment? Putin is sending a message to the U.S. and Ukraine that his military still has the capability to invade if he orders it and that he is not willing to lose Russian influence over Kiev.

The U.S. does not expect a wholesale Russian invasion. It believes Moscow knows that would provoke a massive security crisis. But what happens if Russia just sends a few troops across the border. What then?

Barbara Starr, CNN, The Pentagon.


LU STOUT: Now the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is now speaking from Russia. Again, he has not been seen since February 22nd when it's believed he left Kiev. Let's listen in now.