With the stroke of a pen, Crimea is part of Russia (LIVE BLOG)

Ukrainian border guards stay in line after exercises not far from the Alexeevka check point on the border between Ukraine and Russia, some 120 km from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 21, 2014.</p>

Ukrainian border guards stay in line after exercises not far from the Alexeevka check point on the border between Ukraine and Russia, some 120 km from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on March 21, 2014.

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: CRISIS IN CRIMEA

UPDATE: 3/21/14 5:00 PM ET

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UPDATE: 3/21/14 3:45 PM ET

Not everyone in Russia is happy about the Crimea annexation

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk is back in Russia, after a brief stint in Crimea. He noticed that not everyone in Russia is overjoyed about the Crimea annexation:

Critics here in Moscow argue the Kremlin’s land-grab is being presented through rose-colored glasses.

Arkady Babchenko, a prominent Moscow journalist, echoed that view in a sardonic column titled “Welcome, Crimea!” in which he acquainted Crimeans with Russia’s stuffy state-controlled media, forced military conscription and crippling corruption.

“You will no longer choose — nothing, never,” he wrote in the magazine Snob. “Not even the colors of the curb in your courtyard.”

As the geopolitical drama unfolds in Ukraine, the independent media at home is being subjected to largely underreported crackdown.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 3:10 PM ET

An economic Cold War begins

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames reports on the developments at the EU:

European leaders ratcheted up the rhetoric Friday at a summit dominated by the Ukraine crisis.

"A sham and illegal referendum has taken place at the barrel of a Kalashnikov," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. "Russia has sought to annex Crimea, a flagrant breach of international law and something we will never recognize."

The EU leaders cancelled summit meetings with Putin, froze Russia out of the G-8, Organization for Cooperation and Development in Europe and the International Energy Agency, and imposed a trade boycott on Crimea — unless its goods come from Ukraine.

Following US President Barack Obama’s announcement of new sanctions on Thursday, they also expanded the list of Russian officials subjected to travel bans and asset freezes.

The 12 new names include Russia's bellicose Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, a couple of close Putin advisors and Kremlin propaganda guru Dmitry Kiselyov. He warned on state TV last week that Russia was capable of "turning the USA into radioactive dust."

However, unlike Washington, the EU did not blacklist any of the powerful business leaders close to Putin.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 1:15 PM ET

Cooperation between Russia and Europe stalled on other fronts

Europe has not only pushed forward with economic sanctions. The crisis in Crimea has also affected European countries' cooperation with Russia on other fronts:

Germany:

Germany has decided to suspend approval of all defense-related exports to Russia in light of the West's diplomatic showdown with Moscow over Ukraine, a spokesman for the economy ministry said on Friday.

Earlier this week, the government ordered defense contractor Rheinmetall to halt delivery of combat simulation gear to Russia. The ministry spokesman said this was a "one-off" case, but that future deals would also be blocked.

France:

France is suspending military cooperation with Russia, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday during a trip to Baltic states designed to reassure them as tensions mount with Russia over its seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region.

He said the suspension would concern joint military exercises but said nothing about the fate of contracts to supply Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia. On Thursday Le Drian had said such a decision would not be taken until October.

Le Drian was on a visit to the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia and then Poland on Friday, with the aim of offering them reassurances on security, as European Union leaders sought to broaden sanctions against Moscow officials.

Energy:

European leaders agreed to accelerate their quest for more secure energy supplies at talks on Friday, saying Moscow's annexation of Crimea made them determined to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas.

The EU has made progress in improving its energy security since gas crises in 2006 and 2009, when rows over unpaid bills between Kyiv and Moscow led to the disruption of gas exports to western Europe. However, it has not yet managed to reduce Russia's share of European energy supplies.

Russia provides around one third of the EU's oil and gas and some 40 percent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine.

"We are serious about reducing our energy dependency," said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who represents EU governments in Brussels.

"Around the table, there was a strong sense we need a new way to do energy business," he told a news conference after two days of summit talks. "Leaders are ready to maximize their collective hand."

(Text via Reuters.)

UPDATE: 3/21/14 12:15 PM ET

'It was radio silence' from Kyiv

Reuters — Unlike the unmarked masked soldiers who first seized Crimea three weeks ago, Russian paratroopers strolling across a field near the peninsula's Perevalnoye military base, which they took over on Friday, wore their trademark blue berets and red star cockades.

In other parts of Crimea, Russian troops continued the takeover of Ukrainian positions.

The taking of the Perevalnoye base, 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of the capital Simferopol, coincided with the expiry of a truce between Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries made last week after the annexation of predominantly ethnic-Russian Crimea.

"Yes, we are Russians. We are brotherly troops here," said an officer before entering a field camp meters away from Ukrainian positions.

The Russian takeover of the Black Sea peninsula has been largely bloodless, though one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and two others wounded in a shooting in Simferopol earlier this week.

In Perevalnoye, several dozen soldiers and their families were seen packing and leaving, but an air-mobile unit located in an isolated compound remained defiant.

"As far as we are concerned, we have no intention to leave without our weapons and vehicles," said serviceman Mykola. He added that talks negotiating their departure were ongoing.

Defense analysts in Kyiv say there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Ukrainian troops deployed at about three dozen bases across Crimea, but the Ukrainian military estimates there are up to 20,000 of their troops on the peninsula.

In the Belbek air base, which has so far refused to surrender, some Ukrainian soldiers were seen leaving in pairs or threes, or packing bags and home appliances into cars. Others said they would remain inside until the end.

"We have said goodbyes to our families. There were tears, but now we are ready," Sergei, a soldier, said through the fence, pointing a finger to his forehead, imitating a shot to the head.

Many troops in the Belbek airbase carried weapons, but no magazines were loaded. Some hoped they would be able to give up the base honorably and without bloodshed.

Nikolai, a middle-aged serviceman in camouflage fatigues, complained about a lack of orders from the higher command in Kyiv and said he was willing to continue to serve in the Ukrainian forces.

"We repeatedly asked Kyiv for orders, and it was radio silence, as if they were afraid to take responsibility for us," he said. "The Russians will come, there will be some noise, and that's it, hopefully. We don't plan to die here," he said.


 

GlobalPost's Greg Brosnan was in eastern Ukraine, near the country's border with Russia, where locals hope it won't come to war.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 11:44 AM ET

You owe us, says Russia to Ukraine

Reuters — Russian Prime Minister Medvedev said in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Friday that in total Ukraine owes Russia $16 billion, local news agencies reported.

Medvedev said that Ukraine owes Russia $11 billion because the treaty under which Russia provides Ukraine with cheap gas in return for the Sevastopol naval base was "subject to denunciation."

In addition, he said that Ukraine owes Russia $3 billion for a recent loan in the form of Russian purchase of Eurobonds, and that around $2 billion is owed to Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas concern.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 11:40 AM ET

EU publishes list of officials added to its sanctions list

Here is the full list of officials added to the EU's sanctions list (via the BBC):

Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Deputy PM

Sergey Glazyev, President Putin's adviser

Valentina Matviyenko, Speaker of the Russian Federation Council (upper chamber)

Sergey Naryshkin, Speaker of the State Duma (lower chamber)

Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russia's state-run "Rossiya Segodnya" news agency

Alexander Nosatov, Deputy Commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet

Valeriy Kulikov, Deputy Commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet

Vladislav Surkov, President Putin's aide

Mikhail Malyshev, Chair of Crimea's electoral commission

Valery Medvedev, Chair of Sevastopol's electoral commission

Igor Turchenyuk, Commander of the Russian forces in Crimea

Elena Mizulina, Russian lawmaker

For comparison's sake, here is the US Treasury's list of US sanctions.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 11:30 AM ET

Lavrov calls sanctions unlawful as EU adds 12 more to the list

Reuters — Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday international sanctions imposed on Russian officials and businessmen over the Crimea crisis were "absolutely unlawful" and would create artificial barriers with the West.

Late on Thursday, European leaders added 12 people to a list of those subject to travel bans and asset freezes for their part in Russia's seizure of Crimea and begin preparations for economic sanctions if Russia expands its footprint in Ukraine.

French President Francois Hollande declined to give details of the names added to the list, which was agreed among the EU's 28 leaders after six hours of talks, but said it included Russians and Crimeans and raised the total number of people subject to EU sanctions to 33.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said preparations would also be made for possible trade and economic measures against Russia if it moves beyond Crimea into southern and eastern Ukraine, and confirmed that the EU was calling off an EU-Russia summit scheduled for June, severing political ties.

"We are ready to start stage three if there is further escalation with a view to Ukraine, those are economic sanctions and we asked the European Commission today to do preparatory work for possible economic sanctions," she said.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 11:15 AM ET

Bank Rossiya's Visa and MasterCard customers are out of luck

Reuters — Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc have stopped, without notification, providing services for payment transactions for clients at Russia's Bank Rossiya, the sanctions-hit bank said on Friday.

"The management of Rossiya understands the difficulties of clients in the current situation and will do all it can to solve them," the bank said in a statement.

Earlier, the bank said it was working in a "stable regime" and was taking all the necessary legal measures to defend the bank's and its clients' rights and legal interests.

"In connection with the information about US sanctions being imposed on Rossiya we can report that the bank is working in a stable regime. The bank is meeting and will, without a doubt, fully meet all its obligations to its clients and partners," the bank said in a statement.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 10:30 AM ET

Ukraine takes a step closer to the EU

Ukraine has come nearly full circle with the European Union. On Friday, the two signed a political association agreement that was part of the original EU deal that first brought protesters to the Maidan after former President Viktor Yanukovych rejected it.

The deal ensures closer political and economic cooperation between Ukraine and the EU, although the more substantial economic parts will only be signed after Ukraine holds elections in May.

Once a new administration is in place, Ukraine and the EU plan to sign a free-trade agreement that would give the country access to the EU's markets.

The European Council's president, Herman Van Rompuy, said the deal would bring Ukraine closer to a "European way of life," according to Reuters.

Putin is sure to find that very comforting.

UPDATE: 3/21/14 9:30 AM ET

With the stroke of a pen, Crimea is part of Russia

The legal process to annex Crimea is now complete, after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation completing the transfer.

The Guardian reported that Putin described it as a "remarkable event," as he signed the papers on Friday.

He also apparently joked about the inclusion of Bank Rossiya on a list of US sanctions, saying, "I personally didn't have an account there, but I'll definitely open an account there on Monday."

Read more at the Guardian.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 5:00 PM ET

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UPDATE: 3/20/14 2:38 PM ET

Three Ukrainian warships taken over by Russia

Reuters — Russian troops took over three Ukrainian warships in Crimea on Thursday, a Ukrainian navy official said, after Moscow's military seizure of the Black Sea peninsula and annexation of the territory.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea, said the Russian forces used stun grenades as they stormed the corvette Ternopol in the port city of Sevastopol.

The Russian national tricolor and the Russian navy's flag were flying on a pier elsewhere in Sevastopol where two more Ukrainian navy corvettes were anchored, indicating they were seized.

There were no flags on display on the sterns of the corvettes — called the Lutsk and Khmelnitsky — where the national symbols would normally be visible.

"It appears the Russians have taken the flags down at both ships but not put out their own," Seleznyov said.

More than 14,500 people serve in the Ukrainian navy, according to the country's Defense Ministry website, with most of them stationed in Crimea.

GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka said a Sevastopol news site identified the three Ukrainian vessels as "Donbas," "Borschiv," and "Kremenets."

UPDATE: 3/20/14 2:20 PM ET

Sanctions against 'key sectors' of the Russian economy

When Obama announced additional sanctions today, he mentioned targeting key segments of Russia's economy.

Reuters has more details:

Senior administration officials said many parts of the Russian economy could be targeted, including the financial services sector and the key energy, defense and mining sectors.

Russia's oil and gas industry alone accounts for nearly half of the country's annual budget revenues.

"This is not our preferred outcome," Obama said of the most recent sanctions. "These sanctions would not only have a significant impact on the Russian economy, but could also be disruptive to the global economy. However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community."

One official said Washington was using the new authority to prepare additional sanctions that would sting Moscow, while having the smallest impact possible on the United States and its allies.

"Sanctions build over time. They are very powerful. And people may think that they are a mere wrist slap. I can assure them that they are not," the official said.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 2:10 PM ET

Obama: The world is watching

This was the language President Obama used today when he announced the sanctions against Russian individuals and key sectors of the economy:

"Over the last several days, we’ve continued to be deeply concerned by events in Ukraine. We've seen an illegal referendum in Crimea; an illegitimate move by the Russians to annex Crimea; and dangerous risks of escalation, including threats to Ukrainian personnel in Crimea and threats to southern and eastern Ukraine as well. These are all choices that the Russian government has made -- choices that have been rejected by the international community, as well as the government of Ukraine. And because of these choices, the United States is today moving, as we said we would, to impose additional costs on Russia."

Obama added that "the world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine."

Read his full statement here.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 1:55 PM ET

Ukrainian soldiers are digging in near the Russian border

GlobalPost's Greg Brosnan shot this footage of Ukrainian soldiers digging in outside the village of Anadol about 50 km west of the Russian border:

UPDATE: 3/20/14 12:30 PM ET

UN is 'deeply concerned' by Ukraine crisis, Russia is 'deeply concerned' over rights violations

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday he was "deeply concerned" by the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

Ban met Putin as Russia's lower house of parliament voted to approve a treaty the Russian leader signed on Tuesday to absorb the Ukrainian region of Crimea into Russia, a move that has caused the biggest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

"I am deeply concerned about the current situation involving Ukraine and also Russia," Ban said after the two sat down for talks in the Kremlin.

Putin said Russia "constantly and consistently supports the central role of the United Nations in global affairs.

"And we highly value your efforts, Mr. Secretary-General, in resolving the possibly existing crises and those that existed before on the planet — a positive and very efficient role," Putin said. He did not mention Ukraine in the portion of the meeting open to journalists.

Ban also met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier on Thursday.

Lavrov reportedly told Ban that Russia is deeply concerned over "numerous violations of the rights of Russian-speakers in eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine," according to his ministry.

Lavrov also told Ban that "radical groups" were whipping up tension in Ukraine "with the connivance of the Kyiv authorities," the ministry said in a statement.

Ban will travel to Kyiv on Friday on a trip the United Nations said was "part of (his) diplomatic efforts to encourage all parties to resolve the current crisis peacefully."

UPDATE: 3/20/14 12:28 PM ET

'From now on, and forever...'

Earlier today...

Reuters — Russia's lower house of parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a treaty to annex Crimea from Ukraine, leaving just one legal obstacle for the Black Sea peninsula to cross before it is formally absorbed by Moscow.

Only one deputy in the State Duma voted against the treaty, and the Federation Council upper house is expected to complete ratification on Friday, signed by President Vladimir Putin and Crimean leaders on Tuesday.

The State Duma chamber stood for the national anthem after the vote, approved by 443 deputies in an almost full chamber.

"From now on, and forever, the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol will be in the Russian Federation," pro-Kremlin lawmaker Leonid Slutsky said in an address before the vote.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 12:10 PM ET

That didn't take long...

Russia has responded with its own sanctions against 9 American officials in response to the earlier round of US sanctions that was announced on March 17. That first round of sanctions was mostly lower level and local officials.

The list includes (via The Wall Street Journal):

Sen. John McCain

Sen. Daniel Coats

House Speaker John Boehner

Deputy National Security Advisor Caroline Atkinson

Presidential Aide Daniel Pfeiffer

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Sen. Robert Menendez

Sen. Mary Landrieu

 

UPDATE: 3/20/14 11:55 AM ET

Some of the most influential individuals on US sanctions list

The US Department of the Treasury published the entire list of individuals who will face sanctions. Europe editor Gregory Feifer (and we don't like to brag, but author of Russians) pointed out the most important ones:

Sergei Ivanov is Putin's current chief-of staff, former KGB officer.

Gennady Timchenko, a powerful oil trader, possibly the most significant name on this list.

Vladimir Yakunin is a railway minister, very influential, close to Putin and the Russian Orthodox church.

Yuri Kovalchuk is a businessman with close ties to Putin

Sergey Naryshkin is a former politician, also close to Putin

Arkady Rotenberg is a Russian tycoon

Bank Rossiya, based in St. Petersburg has close ties to Putin's inner circle.

In 2008, a Kremlin critic living in exile said, ""One way [for Putin's allies] to make money, to clean money and to control money is through Bank Rossiya."

UPDATE: 3/20/14 11:30 AM ET

Obama makes statement on Ukraine

Agreements for a "reverse pipeline" to send natural gas from Slovakia to Ukraine in the event that Russia turns off the tap could be ready as soon as the end of April, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said Wednesday.

The commission has already set up reverse-flow pipelines through Hungary and Poland, but it has been pushing for the Slovakian deal for months. With a potential pumping capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per year, it's the most important piece of the puzzle, Oettinger said.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 11:15 AM ET

Obama announces additional sanctions on Russia

President Obama announced further sanctions on Russian individuals and economic sectors:

UPDATE: 3/20/14 10:25 AM ET

How far will the EU go with its sanctions?

From Senior Correspondent Paul Ames:

European Union leaders are in Brussels for a summit that will be crucial in directing their response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and Moscow's veiled threats to the rest of Ukraine.

Before leaving for the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament in Berlin that the summit would extend the list of 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials hit by an EU asset freeze and visa ban earlier this week.

There are doubts over how far the EU will go beyond the list of mostly low-level and local officials it has already sanctioned, to target members of Vladimir Putin's inner political circle or the billionaire businessmen close to him.

If the EU fails to do so, the Kremlin could view it as a sign of weakness from the West and encourage further pressure on Ukraine. However, a number of European nations — including Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Italy — are wary of going further for fear of provoking a backlash from Russia.

The bigger EU players have taken a toughter stance.

In addition to Merkel's warning that Russia could be expelled from the G8, Germany has also stopped an arms deal.

Britain, too, has suspended all arms sales to Russia. The French government hinted that the planned delivery of two high-tech warships to Russia will not go ahead — despite the economic implications of canceling a $1.6 billion contract.

Alexei Navalny, a leading Russian opposition figure, writing in The New York Times, listed a number of political and business figures who should be hit with sanctions, including Roman A. Abramovich (the billionaire boss of London's Chelsea football club) and Aleksei Miller (head of the state gas giant Gazprom).

EU leaders said the moment had not yet come to go beyond targeted measures on Russian individuals and impose full scale trade sanctions on Russia. "Even if (economic) sanctions are not being decided today, they have to be envisaged and prepared," French President Francois Hollande said as he arrived in Brussels.

Meanwhile, the EU leaders are scheduled to sign a political association agreement with Ukraine on Friday morning to cement links between Kyiv and the West. France's ambassador to Ukraine Alain Remy called the agreement "the most extensive treaty the EU had ever signed with a third party.”

UPDATE: 3/20/14 9:50 AM ET

Germany halts major arms deal with Russia

From Senior Correspondent Jason Overdorf in Germany:

Germany's economic ministry on Wednesday suspended a $167 million arms deal with Russia in response to the annexing of Crimea.

Under a contract inked in 2011, Dusseldorf-based Rheinmetall was to build a training facility in Mulino capable of preparing 30,000 Russian soldiers for battle. The project does not involve the sale of any weapons. But the government rejected it nonetheless.

"Given the current situation, the German government considers the construction of a military training facility in Russia to be inappropriate," the economic ministry told the German DPA news agency on Wednesday.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 7:15 AM ET

More sanctions might be on the way

Reuters — European leaders will show they are ready to ramp up punitive measures against Russia, including politically sensitive economic sanctions, at a summit starting on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament.

The German leader, who has in the last few weeks toughened her stance against Russia over its actions in Ukraine and the integration of the Crimea region, also indicated that the Group of Eight economic powers may expel Russia from the exclusive club.

"The EU summit today and tomorrow will make clear that we are ready at any time to introduce phase-3 measures if there is a worsening of the situation," Merkel told the Bundestag lower house.

The EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on people deemed responsible for Russia's incursion into the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Escalation would involve broader bans and could then move to wider trade and financial restrictions.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has close economic ties with Russia which is its main supplier of gas and some companies are worried they would be hit if economic sanctions go ahead.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 7:05 AM ET

Welcome to Russia

Reuters — The legal process required to make Crimea part of Russia will be completed this week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to bring the Ukrainian region into Russia on Tuesday and the lower house of parliament was expected to ratify it later on Thursday. The upper house will follow suit on Friday.

"Practical steps are being taken to implement the agreements on the entry of Crimea and (the Crimean port city of) Sevastopol into Russia," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying. "The legal process will be completed this week."

Russia's moves to annex the Black Sea peninsula, which has a narrow ethnic Russian minority, has turned a confrontation with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.

Lavrov blamed the West in a veiled reference to he United States, saying Western nations were trying to "preserve their global leadership and display their exceptionalism rather than striving to be guided by international law."

"The events in Ukraine are a reflection of these approaches," Lavrov said, adding that Moscow would continue to use "political, diplomatic and legal methods" to protect Russians abroad.

"We will insist that countries in which our compatriots have found themselves fully respect their rights and freedoms," he said. Russia accuses the new pro-Western authorities in Kyiv of endangering Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 6:59 AM ET

Hold that thought on visas

Reuters — Ukraine is in no hurry to impose a visa regime on Russia in response to Moscow's takeover of the Crimea peninsula, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying on Thursday.

"We should not be in a hurry with the introduction of a visa regime with Russia...," Yatsenyuk's press service said, referring to comments the prime minister made in Brussels.

"Such an initiative by Ukraine is most unlikely to be effective in terms of influencing Russia," he said, adding that the measure could negatively affect Ukrainians living in the predominantly Russian-speaking east of the country.

Ukraine's Security Council, a body of top officials, decided on Wednesday to impose rules within days to require Russians traveling to Ukraine to obtain visas. Yatsenyuk is in Brussels to sign the political part of an association agreement with the European Union.

UPDATE: 3/20/14 6:50 AM ET

Ukrainian commander released

Reuters — Ukrainian navy commander Sergei Gaiduk and several other hostages detained by Crimean authorities on Wednesday have been released, the Ukrainian presidential website said on Thursday.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said Admiral Sergei Gaiduk had been driven away from a navy compound in Russian-controlled Crimea by what appeared to be Russian special forces.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asked the authorities in Crimea on Thursday to free the detained hostages and allow them safe passage out of the region.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 5:25 PM ET

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UPDATE: 3/19/14 4:50 PM ET

'Fear? What fear?'

Earlier in the day, GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk spoke with Col. Igor Mamchur, the deputy commander of a naval base in central Simferopol, Crimea’s capital.

Despite having watched his military in Crimea become virtually emasculated by the precision siege of the entire peninsula by Russian forces over the past three weeks, he remained defiant, saying his unit would stand its ground as long as it could.

“Fear? What fear? We’re military men,” Mamchur said, speaking through the cast iron fence that surrounds his base, where he and his men were barricaded by heavily-armed Russian troops.

“When we chose our career, we knew exactly what we were getting into.”

Mamchur said not a single man under his command — he refused to say exactly how many — had expressed interest in crossing over to the Crimean side, which many Ukrainian soldiers have already done.

“That’s what the military is for: to stand until the very end,” he said deliberately, though with a slight lisp.

“How would you feel if American soldiers said, all of a sudden, ‘Ok, we give up. It’s impossible to continue?’”

UPDATE: 3/19/14 4:30 PM ET

Ukraine plans to withdraw its forces from Crimea

The New York Times reported that Ukraine's authorities, conceding to the reality of Russian forces in Crimea, planned to evacuate its military personnel from the peninsula.

The Times wrote:

While the provisional government in Kyiv has insisted that Russia’s annexation of Crimea is illegal and has appealed to international supporters for help, the evacuation announcement by the head of the national security council, Andriy Parubiy, effectively amounted to a surrender of Crimea, at least from a military standpoint.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 1:41 PM ET

Russians visiting Ukraine will now need visas

Reuters — Ukraine's foreign ministry has been given instructions to introduce visas for Russians visiting Ukraine, the country's security chief Andriy Parubiy said on Wednesday.

Parubiy, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, also said the Kyiv government would appeal to the United Nations to declare Crimea a demilitarized zone and take measures for Russian forces to leave the peninsula.

Speaking at a news conference, he said prospects of military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine were growing and Russia planned to occupy Ukrainian territory and undermine presidential elections.

"A range of measures have been taken in reaction to the actions of Russia ... The foreign ministry has been tasked to introduce a visa regime with the Russian Federation," Parubiy said.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 1:23 PM ET

Crimean Tatars 'asked' to leave part of their land

The report, from the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, says:

"Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev said in an interview with RIA Novosti on Tuesday the new government in Crimea, where residents voted Sunday to become part of Russia, wants to regularize the land unofficially taken over by Crimean Tatar squatters following the collapse of the Soviet Union."

"'But we are ready to allocate and legalize many other plots of land to ensure a normal life for the Crimean Tatars,' he said."

UPDATE: 3/19/14 1:14 PM ET

Crimea's Russian face-lift

Meanwhile, Crimea undergoes a de-Ukrainianization (phrase coined by the Guardian's Shaun Walker, below):

UPDATE: 3/19/14 12:57 PM ET

Ukrainian soldiers pack up and leave Crimean naval base

Meanwhile, police officers in Ukraine were reportedly given a choice:

UPDATE: 3/19/14 12:40 PM ET

Details from Sevastopol's media on the morning takeover

Alex Padalka has more details about this morning's events from Crimean media:

This morning, Rear Admiral Sergei Gaiduk surrendered the headquarters of the Ukrainian navy in Sevastopol, after brief negotiations with separatist self-defense members who stormed the base earlier, according to a Sevastopol news site, ForPost.com.

Gaiduk reportedly left the base dressed in civilian clothes. Thirty to 50 of his men left the base as well. No one was hurt, according to ForPost and other Russian media.

Russia Today, citing local news sites, said the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet (based in Sevastopol), Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Vitko, arrived to hold a 15-minute negotiation with his Ukrainian counterpart, while ForPost made no mention of the vice-admiral's arrival. 

Gaiduk's whereabouts also remain unclear: According to ForPost, he was taken away by members of Russia's spy agency, the FSB. RT, citing news agency Kryminform, reported that he was detained by the Sevastopol prosecutor's office, while RIA Novosti said his whereabouts are unknown.

However, as media outside Crimea has clarified, the forces included Russian soldiers, albeit some without identifying insignia:

UPDATE: 3/19/14 11:07 AM ET

UN chief headed to Moscow, Kyiv

Reuters — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon departs on Wednesday for Moscow and Kyiv, where he will hold talks with Russian and Ukrainian leaders and push for a peaceful resolution of the crisis over Crimea, the United Nations said.

"His first stop will be Moscow, where tomorrow, 20 March, he will meet with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other senior officials," the UN press office said in a statement.

He will travel to Kyiv on Friday, where he will hold talks with top Ukrainian officials, members of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission and representatives of civil society.

The statement said the visit was "part of (Ban's) diplomatic efforts to encourage all parties to resolve the current crisis peacefully."

"The Secretary-General has consistently called for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter," the statement said.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 10:43 AM ET

Cameron suggests Russia might be permanently expelled from G8

Reuters — Britain warned President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that Russia could face permanent exclusion from the G8 if the Kremlin took further steps against Ukraine.

"I think we should be discussing whether or not to expel Russia permanently from the G8 if further steps are taken," Prime Minister David Cameron told the British parliament.

The United States and its G7 allies will gather next week at The Hague without Russia to consider a further response to the Kremlin's moves to annex Ukraine's Crimea region.

Cameron called for a strong response from European Union states, whose leaders meet later this week in Brussels and are expected to discuss details of further sanctions on Russia.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 9:57 AM ET

Biden warns Russia of 'dark path'

US Vice President Joe Biden, who is in Lithuania, reassured the United States' NATO allies that they would be protected against any aggression from Russia.

"We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression," Biden said, speaking from Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

"As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation," Biden continued, as reported by Reuters.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 08:29 AM ET

Biden warns Russia on 'dark path' to isolation

Reuters — Russia is on a "dark path" to isolation over its actions in Ukraine and the United States will respond to any aggression against NATO allies, US Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

Biden made the comments during a trip to Lithuania to reassure Baltic allies worried about what an emboldened Russia might mean for their nations. Lithuania, along with fellow Baltic nations of Latvia and Estonia, are NATO members.

UPDATE: 3/19/14 6:57 AM ET

Crimean PM says he won't allow Ukrainian ministers to land

Reuters — In Kyiv, pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk ordered his first deputy prime minister and the acting defense minister to fly to Crimea to "resolve the situation," a senior minister told a cabinet meeting.

But Sergei Askyonov, Crimea's new prime minister since the Russian takeover, said Vitaly Yaremaand and Ihor Tenyukh were not wanted in Crimea and would not be permitted to land.

In Crimea's main city, Simferopol, where one Ukrainian serviceman was killed after a shooting on Tuesday, the situation was calm on Wednesday.

It was the first death on the Black Sea peninsula from a military clash since the region came under Russian control three weeks ago. Yatsenyuk denounced it as a "war crime."

Aksyonov, Crimea's pro-Moscow leader, suggested the incident was the fault of "provocateurs" opposed to the annexation of the region to Russia.

"Unfortunately, two people were killed," he said, speaking in Moscow. "I'm sure we will find these scoundrels. The security service of the Crimean Republic is investigating."

UPDATE: 3/19/14 6:57 AM ET

Russian forces storm Ukrainian naval base in Crimea

SEVASTOPOL/SIMFEROPOL (Reuters) — Russian troops and unarmed men stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday and raised the Russian flag in a tense but peaceful takeover that signals Moscow's intent to neutralize any armed opposition.

Russian soldiers, and so-called "self-defense" units of mainly unarmed volunteers who are supporting them across the Black Sea peninsula, moved in early in the morning and quickly took control.

Shortly after the incident, Ukraine's acting Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said in Kyiv that the country's forces would not withdraw from Crimea even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty to make it part of Russia.

But an hour later, Ukrainian servicemen, unarmed and in civilian clothing, began walking out of the headquarters.

Interfax Ukraine news agency said the commander of the Ukrainian navy, Admiral Serhiy Haiduk, was among those who left and was driven away by officers of Russia's FSB intelligence service. The report could not be independently confirmed.

The first group of servicemen was followed within a few minutes by a handful of troops in Ukrainian uniform, looking shell-shocked at the dramatic turn of events.

"This morning they stormed the compound. They cut the gates open, but I heard no shooting," said Oleksander Balanyuk, a captain in the navy.

"This thing should have been solved politically. Now all I can do is stand here at the gate. There is nothing else I can do," he told Reuters, appearing ashamed and downcast.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported that Alexander Vitko, commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet which is based in Sevastopol, had been involved in talks at the headquarters.

Viktor Melnikov, in charge of the "self-defense" unit, said talks were going on to negotiate a surrender.

"We've had difficult negotiations with the command here," he told reporters. "Some Ukrainian servicemen are already leaving, without their uniforms, but there was no violence."

A Reuters reporter saw three armed men, possibly Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms, at the gate and at least a dozen more inside the compound.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 5:05 PM ET

Signing off

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UPDATE: 3/18/14 5:00 PM ET

Ukrainian radical party's members force TV CEO to resign

From Alex Padalka:

A video released on YouTube and posted on Ukrainian Pravda show members of the Svoboda (Freedom) party, headed by notorious ponytailed Ukrainian politician Igor Miroshnichenko, demanding the resignation of Oleksandr Panteleymonov, interim head of the National Television Company of Ukraine (NCTU).

Miroshnichenko (world-famous for using anti-semitic slurs against American actress Mila Kunis in 2012) is seen yelling at Panteleymonov for his pro-Moscow commentary on the channel and for lying about the protests on Independence Square.

In a later conversation with the newspaper, Panteleymonov denied any physical violence, but the video clearly shows Miroshnichenko push Panteleymonov around his own office at 4:40; when Panteleymonov begins to fight back, several of the Svoboda members force him down into a chair.

The newspaper has his letter of resignation.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 4:45 PM ET

The Crimean interior ministry's version of events

From Alex Padalka:

The Crimean police, contradicting the version of events given by Ukraine's defense ministry, said the shots fired in Simferopol killed a Ukrainian serviceman and a member of pro-Russian self-defense forces. Crimea's interior ministry said two more people from each side were also wounded.

The police statement was initially included in the ministry's account and picked up by news sites, but then removed from the ministry's site.

The sniper or snipers reportedly fired at self-defense forces who were in the area investigating reports of a group of armed men in a partially constructed building and at the Ukrainian military base located nearby.

Both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian sides have called the incident a provocation, while reports of who shot first remained conflicted on social media and public forums.

Interfax quoted Crimea's recently appointed Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov saying, "I don't know anything. I've only just heard from you that someone was killed in Simferopol."

UPDATE: 3/18/14 4:13 PM ET

The sanctioned 11

As the White House warned that travel bans and asset freezes would be expanded to more individuals:

UPDATE: 3/18/14 3:04 PM ET

Ukrainian government authorizes use of arms

Agence France-Presse — Ukraine's defense ministry said on Tuesday its soldiers were "allowed to use arms" after suffering their first casualty in Crimea since Russian and pro-Kremlin troops seized the peninsula nearly three weeks ago.

"For their self defense and protection of their lives, Ukrainian servicemen... deployed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea are allowed to use arms," the Ukrainian defense ministry said in a statement.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 2:35 PM ET

'If our servicemen are endangered'

In response to the shootings on Ukrainian military bases:

While the Ukrainian government confirmed the death of a serviceman on one base, it did not provide details on who shot him. 

UPDATE: 3/18/14 2:24 PM ET

Tensions between Ukrainian forces and 'self-defense' recruits

From GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka:

When Ukraine's interim government announced plans to expand a newly-formed national guard by 20,000 men, it extended membership to volunteers from the Maidan's "self-defense" forces — armed protesters at the frontlines of Kyiv's demonstrations in Independence Square last month.

Last Friday, 500 volunteers started on a two-week training course near Kyiv, and many more are expected to join as Ukraine tries to raise the national guard's numbers to 60,000.

However, the Maidan's self-defense squads had formed their own national guard all the way back in January, pledging allegiance to the Ukrainian people.

The current incarnation of the national guard is using Ukrainian Interior Troops and police forces to train volunteers. Many Maidan self-defense volunteers are angry about the arrangement, not least of all Volodymyr Parasyuk, dubbed the "rising star of Ukrainian politics" by CNN iReport.

The 26-year-old became famous worldwide when he stormed the podium on Feb. 21 just as Ukrainian opposition leaders were sitting down with President Viktor Yanukovych to sign a peace agreement. Parasyuk delivered an emotional speech about friends killed in the clashes, and concluded that Yanukovych could not remain president for another year, ending with, "Tomorrow by 10 o'clock, he has to be out!" Yanukovych fled Kyiv the very next day.

On March 17, Parasyuk posted a fiery Facebook post about how he and his Maidan fighters are not satisfied with the training they are receiving in the national guard.

"I will not go where the people teaching are the ones that were killing my brothers," he wrote.

He and his fighters were not aware that they would be trained by the Ukrainian police, Parasyuk said, adding that the relationship between the fighters and the police was negative. A couple hundred of the 500 fighters that showed up for the training refused to "learn to salute the police" and march.

"Conclusions: there's a lot of show, but little of anything smart or practical," Parasyuk concluded. "A little more of this and we'll go back to Maidan!"

Some members of the police were also upset at having to train the self-defense volunteers, judging by the official online forum of the Ukrainian police. One captain said there was concern among the officers about giving weapons to the self-defense volunteers, because "there are no guarantees they won't go use them to rob the nearest shop." Several forum members mocked the self-defense volunteers as people with little discipline only used to fighting in first-person-shooter computer games such as Call of Duty.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 2:07 PM ET

Ukrainian government confirms casualties

From the BBC:

The official website of the Ukrainian government confirms that one member of the armed forces — a junior officer — has been killed in Simferopol. His surname is given as Kakurin. Another officer, a captain named Fedun (again that is his surname), was wounded in the neck and the arm. The website says one other serviceman has leg and head injuries after being beaten with iron bars.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 1:52 PM ET

Ukrainian member of parliament calls on interim president to resign

From Alex Padalka:

Following Russia's annexation of Crimea on Tuesday, one prominent member of Ukraine's parliament said Oleksander Turchynov should voluntarily resign from his post as Ukraine's interim president for failing to take action.

In an open letter available on Ukrainian news site Unian, Ukraine's former defense minister and current member of parliament Anatoliy Gritsenko suggested that the interim president step down from his post.

"It's clear to you and everyone else that the post of commander in chief — especially in these extreme conditions — is not your calling," Gritsenko wrote.

He added that Turchynov told him during a private conversation that took place during the earlier mass protests in Kyiv that he would return to serving the church or writing a book once Yulia Tymoshenko (Ukraine’s former prime minister jailed by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych) was released.

Turchynov is a Baptist minister.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 1:42 PM ET

More sanctions are coming for Russia, White House warns

Reuters — The United States condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's move on Tuesday to formally annex Ukraine's Crimea region and vowed to impose more sanctions, the White House said.

"This action — the results of the referendum and the attempt to annex a region of Ukraine — will never be recognized by the United States and the international community," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The Obama administration is preparing to expand the list of those facing asset freezes and travel bans under the sanctions order imposed on Monday, Carney also told reporters in a briefing.

"More is coming," Carney said. "Work is being done to make further designations" under the sanctions.

"If Russia refuses to change course, it will incur more costs, imposed by us, imposed by our friends and allies around the world and imposed in general by the global economy," he said.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 1:16 PM ET

Germany, US weigh in

Reuters — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama agreed in a call on Tuesday that Crimea's declaration of independence and Russia's annexation of the peninsula was an "unacceptable blow to the territorial integrity of Ukraine," her office said.

Merkel's office said in a statement that both leaders viewed European Union and US sanctions against people implicated in the annexation of Crimea as a consequence of Russia's actions, but they both remained open to dialogue.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 1:11 PM ET

Eastern Ukraine is wary

When Putin signed the treaty annexing Crimea into Russia this morning, he said, "In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia."

On the rest of Ukraine, Putin said (according to Reuters):

"Don't believe those who try to frighten you with Russia and who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea. We do not want a partition of Ukraine."

Eastern Ukraine, however, isn't calmed by Putin's reassurance. BuzzFeed's Mike Giglio reported on some locals who said they were preparing for what they called a "partisan war" — a guerrilla war.

One group's leader said he has prepared an evacuation plan for his family.

Find the full report here.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 12:49 PM ET

Ukrainian soldiers arrested?

Via the BBC:

"All of the [Ukrainian] troops at the military base in Simferopol have now been arrested," the Ukrayinska Pravda website says. "Their ID cards and money have been confiscated. They were taken outside, lined up, and their weapons were taken from them," it quotes spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov as saying.

Journalists there reported being turned away while trying to get to the base, but this from NBC's Ed Flanagan:

[h/t Guardian live blog]

UPDATE: 3/18/14 12:35 PM ET

Ukrainian soldier reportedly shot

Interfax reported a Ukrainian serviceman had died after an attack on a military base in Simferopol, according to the Guardian.

The BBC's Ben Brown said the soldier was shot in the neck.

The Ukrainian military's spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov told Reuters it was unclear who staged the attack, while Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky told the BBC he couldn't confirm the situation in Simferopol.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 12:26 PM ET

Ukraine conflict is entering the military stage, says PM

Reuters — Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said on Tuesday that the conflict in its Crimea peninsula, now under Russian control, had entered a military phase and accused Russia of committing a "war crime" by firing on Ukrainian servicemen.

"The conflict is moving from a political one to a military one because of Russian soldiers," he told a meeting at Ukraine's defense ministry. "Today, Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian servicemen and this is a war crime without any expiry under a statute of limitations."

Yatsenyuk said he had ordered Ukraine's defense minister to call a meeting with his counterparts from Britain,France, and Russia - signatories to a 1994 treaty guaranteeing Ukraine's borders to "prevent an escalation of the conflict".

Earlier, a military spokesman said a Ukrainian officer was wounded in a shooting at a military facility on the outskirts of the Crimean capital Simferopol, but it was unclear who was behind the incident.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 12:19 PM ET

A Crimean Tatar found dead

The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch called on Crimean authorities on Tuesday to investigate "the enforced disappearance and subsequent killing of Reshat Ametov," a Crimean Tatar from Simferopol.

His relatives told HRW that Ametov was last seen on March 3, when three unidentified men dressed in military-style jackets took him away. His family was unable to locate Ametov.

"On March 16, local police informed them that a body bearing marks of violent death had been found outside the town of Belogorsk. On March 17, the family identified the body as Ametov’s."

HRW's deputy Europe and Central Asia director Rachel Denber said, "The disappearance and murder of Reshat Ametov illustrates the climate of lawlessness that has been pervasive in Crimea over the last week."

As Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk reported last week, Crimean Tatars know a few things about oppression.

While Crimea was speeding toward its inevitable referendum, a civic activist told Peleschuk, "The Russia media can brainwash the population here and in Russia, but it shouldn’t bother with us. We know too well what it all stands for."

Useyn, a 57-year-old construction worker, considered what he said would be a dismal future under Russian rule.

“We are Muslims, and I know how they treat us there,” he told Peleschuk. “They’ll find the smallest pretext and all of sudden, I’m a terrorist.”

UPDATE: 3/18/14 12:05 PM ET

Attempts to seize bases, says Ukrainian defense minister

In Crimea, there has been an attempt to seize Ukrainian military bases with force, Ukrainian news site Liga Novosti quoted Ukrainian Defense Minister Sergei Gaiduk as saying.

An officer was wounded in the leg and hospitalized. Gaiduk said three officers have been taken by the 'self-defense' forces.

He said Russian forces have visited all Ukrainian bases in Crimea, with the goal of destabilizing the situation.

Here's more from Reuters, though it is unclear if it refers to the same incident:

A Ukrainian officer was wounded in a shooting at a military facility on the outskirts of the Crimean capital Simferopol on Tuesday, a military spokesman said, but it was unclear who was behind the incident.

"An officer was wounded in the neck," said Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea.

Some Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea have been under the control of Russian forces for several weeks after Russian troops poured into the Black Sea peninsula ahead of a referendum at the weekend that handed over control from Ukraine to Russia.

There was no immediate evidence that Russian soldiers were involved in Tuesday's incident, witnesses said.

It was not possible to see far into the compound, because streets leading to it had been blocked by so-called "self-defense" units of pro-Russian volunteers who have been patrolling the streets of Crimea in the run-up to the referendum.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 11:43 AM ET

Putin, in Red Square, shouts: 'Glory to Russia!'

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin told a crowd under the Kremlin's walls on Red Square on Tuesday that the Ukrainian region of Crimea was finally returning home.

"Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to ... their home shores, to their home port, to Russia!" he told a crowd chanting "Russia!" and "Putin!" after he signed a treaty on making the Black Sea peninsula part of Russia.

Sevastopol, in Crimea, is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Putin concluded his speech on Red Square by shouting "Glory to Russia."

Via the Globe and Mail's Mark MacKinnon:

UPDATE: 3/18/14 11:11 AM ET

Cameron deems Crimea annexation 'completely unacceptable'

Britain

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia would face consequences for the "completely unacceptable" attempt to annex Crimea.

"The steps taken by President Putin today to attempt to annex Crimea to Russia are in flagrant breach of international law and send a chilling message across the continent of Europe," Cameron said in a statement, according to Reuters.

"It is completely unacceptable for Russia to use force to change borders, on the basis of a sham referendum held at the barrel of a Russian gun.

"President Putin should be in no doubt that Russia will face more serious consequences and I will push European leaders to agree further EU measures when we meet on Thursday," he said.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 10:48 AM ET

The reactions are pouring in...

Poland

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, "Russia's annexation of Crimea can't be accepted by the international community including Poland. In one moment this changes the country's (Ukraine) borders and the geopolitical situation in this region of the world."

Moldova

The former Soviet country of Moldova has its own separatist region to worry about, Transdniestria.

President Nicolae Timofti said Russia would be making a "mistake" if it agreed to annexing the separatist region per the request from Transdniestria's parliamentary speaker, Mikhail Burla.

"This is an illegal body which has taken no decision on inclusion into Russia," Timofti told a news conference.

"I believe that Burla's actions are counter-productive and will do no good for either Moldova or Russia. And if Russia makes a move to satisfy such proposals, it will be making a mistake," he said.

As Reuters wrote: "A referendum in Transdniestria in 2006 produced a 97.2 percent vote in favor of joining Russia, an even higher score than in Crimea's referendum. Unlike Crimea, however, it is located far from Russia. It shares a border with Ukraine."

France

French President Francois Hollande said, "I condemn this decision. France does not recognize either the results of the referendum ... or the attachment of this Ukrainian region to Russia."

"The next European Council meeting on March 20-21 must provide the opportunity for a strong and coordinated European response to the hurdle that has just been jumped."

G7 (G8 minus Russia)

The G7 plan to meet at the Hague next week, to discuss Ukraine.

"The meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine," said White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

(All quotes via Reuters.)

UPDATE: 3/18/14 10:30 AM ET

No time wasted in Crimea

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk who's in Simferopol, Crimea... now officially part of Russia:

Reuters reports that Crimea's accession to Russia still requires the approval of Russia's parliament, which it is expected to give within a matter of days.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 9:43 AM ET

Putin has chosen isolation, says Britain

Reuters — President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path to Russia's isolation by moving to annex Ukraine's Crimea region, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday.

"It was regrettable to hear President Putin today choosing the route of isolation, denying the citizens of his own country, and of Crimea, partnership with the international community and full membership of a range of international organizations," Hague said in a statement to parliament.

Hague also said there was grave danger that a provocation elsewhere in Ukraine could be used as a pretext for a further military escalation. He said that it was highly likely that other G8 countries would now want to meet without Russia.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 09:19 AM ET

Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaction

Kyiv Post published a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine regarding Putin's decision to annex Crimea.

"The independence of Crimea was declared by illegitimate authority on the results of the anti-constitutional referendum, held with egregious violations of democratic standards that have been developed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europea and the Council of Europe and are the integral part of the principles and values of these international organizations," it said

UPDATE: 3/18/14 8:43 AM ET

Defiant Putin signs treaty making Crimea part of Russia

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin, defying Ukrainian protests and Western sanctions, on Tuesday signed a treaty making Crimea part Russia but said he did not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

In a fiercely patriotic address to a joint session of the Russian parliament in the Kremlin, punctuated by standing ovations, cheering and tears, Putin lambasted the West for what he called hypocrisy.

Western nations had endorsed Kosovo's independence from Serbia but now denied Crimeans the same right, he said.

"You cannot call the same thing black today and white tomorrow," he declared to stormy applause, saying Western partners had "crossed the line" over Ukraine and behaved "irresponsibly."

He said Ukraine's new leaders, in power since the overthrow of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych last month, included "neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites."

Putin said Crimea's disputed referendum vote on Sunday, held under Russian military occupation, had shown the overwhelming will of the people to be reunited with Russia after 60 years as part of the Ukrainian republic.

To the Russian national anthem, Putin and Crimean leaders signed a treaty on making Crimea part of Russia. During his address, Putin was interrupted by applause at least 30 times.

"In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia," Putin said.

He thanked China for what he called its support, even though Beijing abstained on a UN resolution on Crimea that Moscow had to veto on its own, and said he was sure Germans would support the Russian people's quest for reunification, just as Russia had supported German reunification in 1990.

And he sought to reassure Ukrainians that Russia did not seek any further division of their country.

Fears have been expressed in Kyiv that Russia might move on the Russian-speaking eastern parts of Ukraine.

"Don't believe those who try to frighten you with Russia and who scream that other regions will follow after Crimea," Putin said. "We do not want a partition of Ukraine. We do not need this."

Setting out Moscow's view of the events that led to the overthrow of Yanukovych in a popular uprising last month, Putin said the "so-called authorities" in Kyiv had stolen power in a coup and opened the way for extremists who would stop at nothing.

Making clear Russia's concern at the possibility of the US-led NATO military alliance expanding into Ukraine, he declared: "I do not want to be welcomed in Sevastopol (Crimean home of Russia's Black Sea fleet) by NATO sailors."

Moscow's seizure of Crimea, denounced by the West as illegal and in breach of Ukraine's constitutions, has caused the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Before Putin's speech, Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, sought to reassure Moscow on two key areas of concern, saying in a televised address delivered in Russian that Kyiv was not seeking to join NATO, the US-led military alliance, and would act to disarm Ukrainian nationalist militias.

UPDATE: 3/18/14 8:04 AM ET

A back to the future Putin

Putin addressed parliament in a hardline speech, turning back the clock, some would say, by 25 years. He then left with Crimean officials, ostensibly to sign an agreement that would bring Crimea into Russia's fold.

Here are some quotes and reactions:

UPDATE: 3/18/14 7:05 AM ET

Putin takes first step toward annexing Crimea

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the first legislative step toward annexing Crimea, informing parliament of the region's request to join Russia.

The BBC reported Putin also approved a draft bill on Crimea's accession.

Putin's moves come just a day after the United States and European Union issued travel bans and asset freezes on some Russian and Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said that his government was prepared to offer "the broadest range of powers" to Russian-speaking parts in the east and south "for the sake of preserving Ukraine's unity and sovereignty," according to the BBC.

There have been fears that Putin would move on from Crimea to other pro-Russian parts of Ukraine, which have seen pro-Moscow demonstrations.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 5:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for the latest news. You can also follow our Twitter list for reports overnight.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 3:43 PM ET

'Putin would be mad to invade Ukraine'...

Reuters — As Russian forces took control of Crimea in the last few weeks, Russian media started referring to a broad belt of land in southern Ukraine as Novorossiya, or New Russia.

The revival of the Tsarist-era name plays well with Russian voters and harks back to a remark in 2008 when President Vladimir Putin told NATO leaders the area contained "only Russians." Six years on, Ukrainians are worried that comment is starting to look prophetic.

With Russia's armed forces holding war games near the border and Moscow threatening to intervene to halt violence against Russians in Ukraine, some fear Putin will not stop at Crimea and may try to grab more territory in the east and south.

Some Russians dream of annexing most of eastern and southern Ukraine, cutting the country in half and extending Moscow's reach to the border of Transnistria, a breakaway sliver of Moldova that has strong Russian ties.

"It's clear that the Kremlin's actions ... will be aimed at acquiring this whole piece of land up to Transnistria — and, of course, the eastern regions (of Ukraine)," Russian political commentator Yulia Latynina said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Doing so would dramatically raise the stakes in the biggest dispute between Russia and the West since the Cold War and increase the danger of direct military conflict.

Many Western experts see such threats largely as posturing.

They suggest Putin may be trying to frighten the West into letting him keep Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula, in the hope that he will not press on with his ambitions.

"Putin would be mad to invade Ukraine," one Western official said, adding that he would be more likely to decide on "playing it long, fomenting rebellion among the ethnic Russians" in the long-term hope of winning control of territory without a fight.

The Eurasia Group, a US-based think tank, said that "a Russian invasion remains very possible but on balance unlikely."

"Moscow will continue to seek more influence primarily by destabilizing eastern Ukraine," it said.

Russia's plans for eastern Ukraine remain hard to predict but even if few people in the West believe a military conflict is likely, almost no one seems to rule it out.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 2:39 PM ET

Crimea recognized as a sovereign state

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Ukraine's Crimea region as a sovereign state, Russian news agencies cited the Kremlin press service as saying.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 1:33 AM ET

Ukraine refuses to withdraw its soldiers from Crimea

Following the referendum in Crimea, Ukraine's Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said, "Crimea was, is, and will be our territory," in a statement on Monday.

Senior politician — and opposition leader during the mass protests in Kyiv — Vitaly Klitschko said Ukrainian troops would remain at their bases even after March 21, according to the Kyiv Post.

A peace treaty signed by Ukraine and Russia's interior ministries promises safe passage to Ukrainian soldiers, and Ukraine's defense minister said Russian forces had respected the terms thus far.

Here's the rub, according to Kyiv Post:

The Russian government expects that Ukrainian troops will surrender their military bases before the conclusion of the treaty. The Ukrainian government has said that it will not withdraw forces from Crimea, using the peace as an opportunity to replenish supplies for Ukrainian troops stationed on Crimean bases.

The following is Ukrainian interim President Oleksander Turchynov:

UPDATE: 3/17/14 1:16 PM ET

Crimea will soon be in Moscow's time zone

Agence France-Presse outlined the various steps Crimea has taken to join Russia:

Crimea launched a raft of measures on Monday to facilitate its entry into Russia, a day after the separatist region voted overwhelmingly to split from Ukraine.

Here is a summary of its first political, economic and military steps.

Independence declaration

Crimea's regional assembly declared independence from Ukraine and appealed for recognition from the international community.

"The Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea... declares Crimea an independent sovereign state — the Republic of Crimea," said a document approved by the assembly.

"The republic of Crimea appeals to the United Nations and to all countries of the world to recognize it as an independent state."

Application to join Russia

The authorities simultaneously applied to become part of Russia, reversing a 1954 move by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who had handed the peninsula as a "gift" to Ukraine, then still a Soviet republic.

"The Republic of Crimea... applies to the Russian Federation to accept the Republic of Crimea as a member of the Russian Federation," they said.

Nationalization of Ukrainian state property

The assembly decreed the nationalization of all Ukrainian state property in Crimea, saying: "All establishments, businesses and other organizations of Ukraine or with Ukrainian participation on the territory of Crimea will belong to Crimea."

It also noted that Ukrainian law would no longer apply in the breakaway region, nor would decisions taken by Kiev since the ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych last month.

"The activities of state institutions of Ukraine on the territory of Crimea are finished and their powers, their property and their budgets are transferred to the state organs of the Republic of Crimea," it said.

Military control

Crimea moved to rid the peninsula of Ukrainian forces, with regional assembly chief Volodymyr Konstantynov saying they would be given two alternatives: to swear allegiance to the local authorities or leave.

Konstantynov was earlier quoted by Russian media as saying all Ukrainian military units on the peninsula would be "disbanded" as part of the nationalization of Ukrainian state property.

Accepting Russian currency

The Russian ruble was introduced as a second official currency in Crimea alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia, which will continue to be valid in Crimea until January 1, 2016.

Switch to Moscow time zone

In perhaps the most potentially confusing move yet, Crimea's local prime minister Sergiy Aksyonov tweeted that from March 30, the region would switch to Moscow time (GMT +4), two hours ahead of clocks in Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 12:48 PM ET

US working with EU, NATO allies

In addition to announcing the US sanctions against Russian officials, President Barack Obama said:

We’re continuing our close consultations with our European partners, who today in Brussels moved ahead with their own sanctions against Russia. Tonight, Vice President Biden departs for Europe, where he will meet with the leaders of our NATO allies — Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And I’ll be traveling to Europe next week. Our message will be clear. As NATO allies, we have a solemn commitment to our collective defense, and we will uphold this commitment.

Find his full statement here.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 12:32 PM ET

Most comprehensive sanctions against Russia since the Cold War... or?

Reuters — President Barack Obama on Monday imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions were the most visible sign of US anger at Russia's attempt to absorb the Crimea region of southern Ukraine, reflecting the deepest plunge in US-Russian relations since the Cold War.

The US sanctions came in an executive order signed by Obama a day after a Crimea referendum on Sunday aimed at allowing Russia to annex the autonomous region, a vote that the United States says was illegal and would never be recognized by Washington.

During a White House press briefing, Obama warned that continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine would only increase Russia's isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.

"If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions," he said.

Amid fears that Russia might move into eastern Ukraine, Obama said further provocations will achieve nothing except to "further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world."

Obama's order freezes any assets in the United States and bans travel into the country of seven ranking Russian government officials and four individuals identified as Crimea-based separatist leaders.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was among those sanctioned. He fled Kyiv after bloody protests against his rule.

The United States also reached into Putin's inner circle by naming presidential aide Vladislav Surkov and adviser Sergei Glazyev. Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin, and two state Duma deputies, Leonid Slutsky and Yelena Mizulina also were targeted.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the penalties said they were the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War.

A senior official said Obama's order clears the way for sanctions on people associated with the Russian arms industry and targets "the personal wealth of cronies" of the Russian leadership.

Putin himself was not sanctioned. A senior Obama administration official said it would have been a highly unusual step and extraordinary to target a head of state.

__________

However, journalists watching the sanctions list were a bit more skeptical about how significant the sanctions would be:

Sechin would be a reference to Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin. A former deputy prime minister under Putin, he's considered a close ally of the Russian president.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 12:20 PM ET

Russia rejects UN assessment

Reuters — Russia rejected as biased on Monday an assessment by a United Nations official who questioned accusations that Ukraine's Russian-speaking population faced systematic human rights abuses.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement criticized UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic who said last week there had been violations against ethnic Russians in Ukraine but said there was no evidence they were "widespread or systematic."

"The biased, prejudiced and unobjective assessment of I. Simonovic on the human rights situation in the country calls forth surprise and confusion," said the ministry in a statement.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 11:57 AM ET

Ukraine approves plan to mobilize 40,000 reservists

Reuters — Ukraine's parliament endorsed on Monday a plan to mobilize 40,000 reservists to counter Russia's "blatant aggression" in Crimea and guard against what a senior official described as further incursions in the south and east of the country.

Andriy Parubiy, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, told parliament that 20,000 reservists would be deployed as part of the armed forces and the other half would serve in a newly-created National Guard.

Crimea was brought under Russian control earlier this month and in a referendum held on Sunday, more than 96 percent of voters were officially said to have backed a proposal to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.

"What has taken place is a seizure, blatant aggression, the seizure by Russia of parts of the territory of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol," Parubiy told the chamber before the vote.

"We now have grounds to state that the measures being taken today are enough to prevent a repeat of the Crimean scenario in Ukraine's southeastern regions."

These regions include Donetsk and Kharkiv, two cities which have seen unrest and clashes between pro-Russian and rival demonstrators, as well as Odessa, a Black sea coastal area to the northwest of Crimea.

A total of 275 members in the 450-seat assembly backed the measure. About 30 deputies in the chamber refused to vote.

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk shot this image of Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea:

UPDATE: 3/17/14 11:38 AM ET

Just a casual reminder about mutually assured destruction

In case you missed this last night:

Reuters — A Kremlin-backed journalist issued a stark warning to the United States about Moscow's nuclear capabilities on Sunday as the White House threatened sanctions over Crimea's referendum on union with Russia.

"Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash," television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said on his weekly current affairs show.

Behind him was a backdrop of a mushroom cloud following a nuclear blast.

Kiselyov was named by President Vladimir Putin in December as the head of a new state news agency whose task will be to portray Russia in the best possible light.

His remarks took a propaganda war over events in Ukraine to a new level as tensions rise in the East-West standoff over Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region which is now in Russian forces' hands and voted on Sunday on union with Russia.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 10:50 AM ET

United States and European Union impose sanctions

Reuters — The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on officials from Russia and Ukraine after Crimea applied to join Russia on Monday following a weekend referendum.

Crimea's leaders declared a Soviet-style 97-percent result in favor of seceding from Ukraine in a vote condemned as illegal by Kiev and the West.

The Crimean parliament "made a proposal to the Russian Federation to admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic". The move would dismember Ukraine against its will, escalating the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.

US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians on Monday blamed forMoscow's military seizure of Crimea, including ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin himself, suspected in the West of trying to reconstitute as much as possible of the former Soviet Union under Russian authority, was not on the blacklist.

In Brussels, the EU's 28 foreign ministers agreed on a list of 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials to be subject to travel bans and asset freezes for their roles in the events.

The EU did not immediately publish their names. Washington and Brussels said more measures could follow in the coming days if Russia does not back down and formally annexes Crimea.

"Today's actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation," the White House said.

A senior Obama administration official said there was "concrete evidence" that some ballots in the Crimea referendum arrived in some Crimean cities pre-marked.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was named on the White House sanctions list, suggested that the measures would not affect those without assets abroad.

UPDATE: 3/17/14 9:43 AM ET

Crimea applies to join Russia, plans to disband Ukrainian military

Reuters — Crimea's parliament applied to become part of Russia on Monday, a day after a referendum in the southern Ukrainian region showed overwhelming support for joining the Russian Federation.

The parliament "made a proposal to the Russian Federation to admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic," according to a statement on its website.

A Crimean parliamentary delegation was expected to arrive in Moscow on Monday to discuss the procedures required for the Black Sea peninsula to become part of the Russian Federation.

Crimea's parliamentary speaker said on Monday Ukrainian military units in the region would be disbanded although personnel would be able to remain on the Black Sea peninsula, Russian news agency Interfax reported on Monday.

"We will of course nationalize all (units) on the territory (of Crimea)," Interfax cited Vladimir Konstantinov as saying in the city of Simferopol after the southern Ukrainian region voted in a referendum to join Russia.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 4:45 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments. You can also follow our Twitter list for reports overnight.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 3:40 PM ET

Thousands celebrate in Crimea after vote to join Russia

An official exit poll says 93 percent voted to join Russia during today's referendum. Crimea's leaders are already scheduled to fly to Moscow tomorrow. And the region may be using the Russian Ruble as soon as April 1.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 2:30 PM ET

Full US statement on Crimea vote: 'We reject the referendum that took place today...'

"The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991, and we reject the “referendum” that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine. This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, and the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.

No decisions should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian government. Moreover, this vote was not necessary. The Ukrainian government has made clear its willingness to discuss increased autonomy for Crimea, and the presidential elections planned for May 25 provide a legitimate opportunity for all Ukrainians to make their voices heard on the future of their country.

In addition, Ukraine, the United States, the EU, the OSCE, the UN, and others have called for Russia to allow international monitors into the Crimean peninsula to ensure that the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine are being upheld. Russia has spurned those calls as well as outreach from the Ukrainian government and instead has escalated its military intervention into Crimea and initiated threatening military exercises on Ukraine’s eastern border.

Russia’s actions are dangerous and destabilizing. The UN Security Council recognized this in a vote yesterday that only Russia opposed. As the United States and our allies have made clear, military intervention and violation of international law will bring increasing costs for Russia – not only due to measures imposed by the United States and our allies but also as a direct result of Russia’s own destabilizing actions.

In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another. We call on all members of the international community to continue to condemn such actions, to take concrete steps to impose costs, and to stand together in support of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty."

UPDATE: 3/16/14 2:15 PM ET

Russian media: Crimea exit polls say 93 percent voted to join Russia today

UPDATE: 3/16/14 1:30 PM ET

Ukraine scrambles to recruit soldiers

From GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Paul Ames in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv:

Amid the growing fears of Russian military action, Ukraine’s fledgling national guard opened a recruitment office on Khreshchatyk street, downtown Kyiv’s store-lined main thoroughfare.

Two volunteers wearing the brand new camouflage uniform, cherry-red berets and shoulder badges in the yellow and blue national colors stood guard outside, while Lt. Col. Roman Nakonechny interviewed would-be recruits in a coffee house still decorated with pictures advertising cappuccino and raspberry cake.

“We’ve enlisted 60 so far today,” Nakonchny said. “They’ll have medical and background checks and if they pass they’ll go straight to training.”

Speaking on Ukrainian television, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said up to 15,000 guards would be mobilized by the end of March as the authorities rush to pull together a force that can deter the threat of Russian invasion. First units have already begun training.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said 60,000 Russian troops were massed over the border in addition to over 20,000 stationed in Crimea, where voters were expected to approve union with Russia in a referendum organized by the region’s pro-Moscow authorities.

Tension has been mounting in the capital amid violence in eastern cities that the Kyiv authorities blame on pro-Russian mobs. Moscow has said it will consider appeals to intervene in eastern Ukraine to protect citizens there.

Andriy Parubiy, head of Ukraine’s national security council, claimed on Ukraine’s Channel 5 television that pro-Russian forces had planned to seize power in eight eastern regions, then attempt to take control in Kyiv by March 21.

He said those plans had been set back by the low turnout at pro-Russian demonstrations in the east and the actions of Ukrainian forces who, Parubiy said, had turned back hundreds of Russian citizens seeking to cross the border with weapons in recent days.

There were pro-Russian demonstrations in several eastern cities Sunday. In Donetsk, an estimated 3,000 tried to seize judicial buildings and Kharkiv protesters broke into the headquarters of a Ukrainian nationalist movement.

There were reports that some tension in the country had been defused, at least temporarily, when Ukrainian Defense Ministry Igor Tenyukh said local commanders had negotiated a truce with the Russians that would allow for Ukrainian military bases, blockaded by Russian forces, to be resupplied.

“For now the situation concerning our military installations … has been normalized,” Tenyukh said.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 12:00 PM ET

More unrest in Ukraine's east

Last week, clashes in the eastern city of Donetsk between pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv protesters left one pro-Kyiv protester dead. Authorities also last week arrested the leader of the pro-Moscow group.

On Saturday, thosuands of pro-Moscow demonstrators returned to the streets in Donetsk, chanting slogans and support for Russia. Ukrainian flags were nowhere to be seen.

Today, it appears the pro- Moscow contingent is trying to free their arrested leader, Pavel Gubarev.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 11:45 AM ET

Ukraine cobbles together an army

Ukraine's interim government created a new national guard to counter Russian forces that are amassing along the country's border.

Ukraine’s 130,000-strong armed forces are outnumbered eight-to-one by the Russian military. And Russia has double the number of tanks and five-times more combat aircraft.

“I hope the war doesn’t come, but if it does the land will burn under their feet,” said one Ukrainian man, who hoped to volunteer for the new national guard.

Read the full report by Senior Correspondent Paul Ames about Ukraine's efforts to mobilize a working army.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 11:30 AM ET

"Vote"

These are Russian cossacks, and that is a Russian flag already hanging over Crimea's parliament building.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 10:32 AM ET

Will Eastern Ukraine follow Crimea to Russia?

Crimea's deputy prime minister, Rustam Temirgaliyev, told journalists today that he expects cities in eastern Ukraine to begin holding similar referendums.

From the Kyiv Post:

Temirgaliyev said he was sure that the Russian occupation wouldn't stop at the Crimean peninsula, but would spread to regions in Eastern Ukraine, where separatist movements have sprung up in recent weeks.

"Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv have the same situation (as in Crimea). Some 75 percent of people want to join Russia in Eastern Ukraine," he said

What's more, Temirgaliyev said that preparations to join the Ruble zone are already underway in Crimea.

"In April, Russian rubles will start functioning here," he told journalists, adding that the Hryvnia will stay in use for a year.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 10:15 AM ET

After a day of searching...

UPDATE: 3/16/14 10:10 AM ET

Confused about what's happening today?

This excellent explainer from the New Republic lays it all out for you.

It also breaks down why the ballots used in the referendum are tailored to sway the vote. For example, the choice is either to join Russia or restore the 1992 constitution, which essentialy gives Crimea independence. There's no option for the status quo, which would be for Crimea to remain as a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/16/14 9:45 AM ET

Ukraine says temporary 'truce' struck with Russia

(Reuters) — The defense ministries of Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a truce in Crimea until March 21, Ukraine's acting defense minister said on Sunday.

"An agreement has been reached with (Russia's) Black Sea Fleet and the Russian Defense Ministry on a truce in Crimea until March 21," Ihor Tenyukh told journalists on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting.

"No measures will be taken against our military facilities in Crimea during that time. Our military sites are therefore proceeding with a replenishment of reserves."

UPDATE: 3/16/14 9:30 AM ET

Huge turnout for predictable vote in Crimea

According to Crimea's referendum chief, Mikhail Malyshev, more than 44 percent of Crimeans had voted by 12 p.m., only four hours after the voting began.

The newly-installed prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, told reporters earlier this week that he expected an 80 percent turnout, with around 80 percent voting in favor of joining Russia.

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk said that while visiting polling stations in downtown Simferopol, Crimea's regional capital, he was unable to find any ballots marked in favor of the second option, a form of de-facto independence.

Around town, the mood was largely festive, with singers performing on at least one central street corner, families strolling leisurely with their children, and pro-Russia demonstrators gathering on a large square under a statue of Vladimir Lenin.

While there was little immediate tension, Cossacks remained stationed around the region's parliament, while "self-defense" forces patrolled aimlessly downtown. Members of the controversial riot police ordered disbanded last month by the Kyiv authorities still stand guard, masked and armed with automatic rifles, on some streets alongside traffic police.

In one incident, a GlobalPost reporter witnessed a plain-clothes gunman, armed with an automatic rifle and claiming he was a security official, burst into a polling station in Simferopol, though it was not immediately clear why.

He quickly left after being swarmed by journalists and presenting a sheet of paper he claimed explained his authority.

Few here are expecting anything other than an overwhelming vote in favor of joining Russia. The country's tri-color flag can be spotted all over town — at demonstrations, hoisted above passing cars, and wrapped around bystanders.

Members of a Russian motorcycle club based outside of Moscow even turned up at one polling station to watch the vote and extend their "support" for locals.

Meanwhile, Russian troops continue to block Ukrainian soldiers inside their base here in central Simferopol, while fears grow elsewhere in Ukraine over a potential Russian invasion of the country's mainland.

Voters here appear mostly determined for a future that seems inevitable at this point.

Asked by GlobalPost how she voted after casting her ballot, one elderly woman said confidently: "For [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."

UPDATE: 3/16/14 9:00 AM ET

'These things are being decided at a higher level, not by the ordinary people'

From Senior Correspondent Paul Ames in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv:

In Kyiv on Sunday there were prayers for peace, but also calls for citizens to take up arms in defense of the nation in case of Russian invasion.

“We hope very, very much that it will be resolved peacefully, no one needs this war,” said Olga Litovchenko, one of group of 50-something friends emerging from a service at St. Andrew’s Church. “These things are being decided at a higher level, not by the ordinary people. We know that ordinary Russians also do not want this war.”

A Baroque jewel perched high on a cliff overlooking the broad River Dnieper, the Church interior contains a wall of photos showing victims of the crackdown by security forces last month on protesters in Kyiv’s main square, known as the Maidan. Portraits of slain demonstrators are displayed alongside members of the security forces who also died.

During the service, the priest said prayers for the victims of sniper fire and torture.

Beyond the appeals for peace, however there is a grim determination in Kyiv to resist should Russia’s intervention in the country move beyond the Crimea peninsula where a referendum Sunday was expected to call for the region to be transferred to Moscow’s control, following its occupation by Russian troops.

“We understand that Russia is much bigger and Russian troops are much stronger, but we’ll win any way,” said Myhola Gatsko, another of the group at the church. “We are very proud of those kids who are signing up for the national guard. Still, we hope it does not lead to a fight, our spirit is very optimistic.”

The Ukrainian parliament this week approved the creation of a new 60,000 strong national guard to help the armed forces protect the country should Russia move beyond Crimea. Volunteers have been coming forward in large numbers to sign up, including many from the “self-defense units” formed to protect the protesters in Maidan.

As voting was ongoing in Crimea Sunday morning, series of speakers in a variety of military uniforms took to the stage set up in Maidan to demand a strong national guard and, if necessary, the formation of armed partisan units to resist any invaders.

Fears of a Russian attack have been mounting as the Crimea referendum approached. The Russian government has issued repeated warnings that it could intervene in the east of Ukraine to “protect” citizens after riots which led to the deaths of four people. Local authorities have blamed the violence on pro-Russian mobs.

On Saturday, up to 120 Russian troops were reported to have crossed out of Crimea to take control of a gas pumping station five miles inside the neighboring Ukrainian province of Kherson. The Defense Ministry said the Russians had withdrawn from a village after the intervention of Ukrainian forces, but said about 40 Russian troops, remained close by and had set up a checkpoint backed by armored personnel carriers.