Corey Flintoff

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Russia says it has cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine after Kiev missed a deadline to pay part of its huge outstanding energy debt. The Russians say that in the future the state-run company Gazprom will only supply gas to Ukraine in return for pre-payment.

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Less than three months after Russia annexed Crimea, Moscow is committing billions of dollars in aid and tax breaks to make the Black Sea peninsula a showcase of development.

But there's at least one major problem: The region has a deeply ingrained reputation for corruption and organized crime, a reputation that already taints some of the region's newest leaders.

After Russian troops seized control of the Crimean parliament in February, one of the first leaders to emerge was a 41-year-old businessman and politician named Sergei Aksyonov.

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There are increasing signs of friction between pro-Moscow separatists and local residents in eastern Ukraine, as some local people demand an end to the violence and lawlessness in the region. Meanwhile, one of Ukraine's richest men has repeated his call for a return to stability, calling on workers to show their support for a unified country.

As Ukraine prepares for presidential elections on Sunday, a social media struggle is underway in the country's eastern provinces.

That's where pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings in many towns and declared independence after a much-disputed referendum. The separatists have vowed to block the vote in at least two key regions, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Barricades in the eastern Ukrainian town of Mariupol have been dismantled, following a deal between separatist leaders, police and steelworkers from the city's biggest steel mill. The deal came after steel mill owner, billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, issued a statement saying the region's economic future depended on staying united with Ukraine.

In eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists are claiming independence based on a victory in a hastily organized referendum. Now, they're resisting a nationwide presidential election that's scheduled for May 25.

With Russian troops still massed near the border, Ukrainian and international mediators are trying to find a solution for the crisis.

There are some very different visions of the future for the volatile region.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new measure that will give the government much greater control over the Internet.

Critics say the law is aimed at silencing opposition bloggers and restricting what people can say on social media. It would also force international email providers and social networks to make their users' information available to the Russian security services.

The Ukrainian government is describing its offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country as an "anti-terrorist operation," language that offends the separatists and Russia.

In turn, Russia is using even stronger language, saying that the Ukrainian military has launched a "punitive operation." While that may not carry any special meaning to Western ears, it has far more sinister implications for Russians.

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Ukraine's interim government is facing major obstacles: a separatist uprising in the east of the country, an economy in tatters and a presidential election next month.

But the leadership is also facing a longer-term challenge, one that will shape the future of the country: the creation of a new constitution.

The task will be complicated by pressure from Russia, which has already made clear what kind of constitution it thinks Ukraine should have. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, laid out Russia's position in an interview last month.

Russia says it is once again staging military drills near the border of eastern Ukraine.

Russia's defense minister says the exercises are a reaction to NATO maneuvers in Eastern Europe and what he calls "Ukraine's military machine."

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he hopes he won't have to move troops into Ukraine to protect the local Russian-speaking population, but he reserves the right to do so. He made the comments on a televised call-in show.

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In the political battle between Ukraine and Russia, one of the biggest pawns is chocolate.

That's because the current front-runner in Ukraine's presidential race is Petro Poroshenko, known as "the Chocolate King." His billion-dollar empire was founded on candy factories.

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President Vladimir Putin isn't the first Russian leader to try to create a world-class resort in Sochi. That story is told in one of Sochi's best attractions, an excellent city history museum.

The contrast couldn't have been greater: the protest band Pussy Riot in colorful ski masks and mini dresses, attempting to film a segment for a new video on Sochi's waterfront; and Cossacks in traditional uniform with black sheepskin hats and riding boots, patrolling Sochi streets as part of security for the Olympics.

The Cossacks, trying to enforce a government ban on protests, knocked band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to the ground, lashed her with a horse whip, and roughed up other musicians.

Long before it became an Olympic host city, Sochi was a favorite getaway for one of history's most ruthless dictators: Josef Stalin.

The Soviet leader had a villa built in the hills overlooking the Black Sea, and he visited it during some of the most tumultuous years of his reign.

The villa, known as Stalin's dacha, or summer house, was built in 1934, and he used it until the end of World War II in 1945. No Soviet or Russian leader after Stalin is known to have visited it.

There are probably fewer American fans in Sochi than at previous Winter Games, partly because of concerns about security, and partly because of the time and expense it takes to get to the Russian resort town on the Black Sea.

But Americans are represented there, with gusto, by a group of evangelical Christians who call themselves the International Sports Chaplains. Members of the group have been going to the Olympic Games since 1988.

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Two weeks before the Winter Olympics, Russian security forces are reportedly searching for potential suicide bombers, at least one of whom may already be in the host city of Sochi.

The suspects are thought to be linked to Islamist militants who are fighting to throw off Russian control and create a fundamentalist Muslim state in Russia's North Caucasus Mountains.

Police have been circulating leaflets at hotels in Sochi, warning about women who may be part of a terrorist plot.

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