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With Leadership Jumble, Ukraine Continues To Transform


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West . I'm Arun Rath.

Ukraine is continuing to transform before our eyes. A new interim president has been named, and he's given parliament 48 hours to agree on an interim government. Pro-western protesters continue to fill Independence Square in Kiev, though it has remained peaceful since Friday. Some clashes have been reported, however, in the pro-Russian eastern part of the country.

In Washington, President Obama's national security adviser is warning Russia not to make what she calls the grave mistake of intervening militarily in the crisis.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Kiev. Peter, fill us in on the latest. Who is this new interim president, and what's his agenda?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, his name is Oleksander Turchinov, and he really hadn't had time to settle into his old new job, which was parliament speaker. So you can get a sense of how quickly things are continuing to change. He's a close ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is out of jail. He's firmly in the pro-European camp here in Ukraine as opposed to the pro-Russian camp.

Parliament is now pretty well-dominated by opposition forces. Turchinov wants a new government agreed by Tuesday, and several sitting cabinet ministers have been dismissed. But we should remember that Viktor Yanukovych says he never gave up power or the presidency, and all these moves by parliament are illegal. There's a real sense of uncertainty still hanging over everything.

RATH: You've been down in Independence Square today. What's the mood there, and what are people saying about what's going to come next?

KENYON: Well, after the terrible death toll Thursday, the bloodiest day in independent Ukrainian history, the square has been peaceful. The makeshift clinics are still there. The tent dwellers are still there. They've been joined by volunteer self-defense teams, men moving in patrols. Occasionally, you'll see a stick or some other kind of weapon. The atmosphere is one of hope tinged with anxiety.

I talked to a few veterans of the 2004 Orange Revolution, and they say, we're not going to make the same mistakes. And one of those mistakes was focusing on a single new leader - in that case, Yulia Tymoshenko. Instead, this time, all they're really focusing on at the moment are cleaning out the old guard, trying to hold government officials accountable. The palatial private residence of Yanukovych was being combed for documents today.

But again, all this could come to not if there isn't some kind of national and international consensus that this rapid fire upending of the political order here is legitimate.

RATH: Now, one important player that hasn't been heard from is Russia. Are people there concerned about how Moscow is going to react to the sudden dumping of their ally, Yanukovych?

KENYON: Very much so. They're putting a brave face on it. But this is the next big development to watch for. We're getting some signals from Moscow. The foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry that the opposition has flouted the peace deal that was signed just on Friday and is ceasing power. Can Moscow reverse that trend and restore some of its allies to power? If not, how will it react?

Ukraine has long been divided on this question. In the east, there's been separatist camps for years long before this crisis. And down in the Crimean peninsula, people want to be closer to Moscow. So the tone that Vladimir Putin takes - the Russian leader - now that the Olympics have safely ended, and he'll be focusing on this, could be crucial to Ukraine's future.

RATH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Kiev. Thanks, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.