An interview with Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network on April 10, 2014. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News
Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Tension is rising between the U.S. and Russia after pro-Russian protesters occupied government buildings throughout several cities in Eastern Ukraine. Protester in Luhansk have called for a referendum vote on whether or not to join Russia. Both Russian and U.S. officials have accused each other of creating the crisis.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalysts behind the chaos in the last 24 hours.
DESVARIEUX: On the other side, the Russian foreign ministry has also claimed that U.S. mercenaries and right-wing groups are working with Ukrainian security forces in the East to quell the protests.
Now joining us to discuss this situation is Nicolai Petro. Nicolai is a professor of politics at the University of Rhode Island. He's been in Ukraine since August as a visiting scholar and has observed the current crisis firsthand.
Thanks for joining us, Nicolai.
NICOLAI PETRO, PROF. POLITICS, URI, VISITING SCHOLAR IN UKRAINE: Good evening.
DESVARIEUX: So, Nicolai, we just heard from Secretary of State John Kerry, and you also--as I mentioned, the Russian side is pointing the finger at the U.S., so there's back-and-forth between both sides. But in the end of it what I want to know is: where's the truth? Who are these protesters? And who is supporting them?
PETRO: I don't think it's quite fair to characterize them as secessionists, because secession is really a last resort for them. Their demands are for a transfer of more power to the regions, and only if the government in Kiev refuses that, a referendum for independence, then ultimately, perhaps, joining Russia. But that's not their first objective.
DESVARIEUX: How much popular support is there for these building occupations and the calls for referendums?
PETRO: That's very hard to say. There have been recent polls that suggest that it is not a popular option. In other words, the majority would vote against both federalism and certainly against separation. But as the mayor of one of the cities has said, that only makes it all the more surprising that Kiev doesn't want to hold a referendum and put the issue to rest.