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Lavrov says Russia has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine (LIVE BLOG)

However, Moscow warned that it would intervene to protect 'fellow citizens' following violence in eastern Ukraine.

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: CRISIS IN CRIMEA

UPDATE: 3/14/14 5:00 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: 3/14/14 3:01 PM ET

Crimea's ballot

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk spotted some mock ballots in Crimea:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 1:07 PM ET

Governor of Donetsk blames Russia for violence

Reuters — The new governor of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk on Friday said Russians were behind violent clashes between rival demonstrators in which one man was killed, and accusedMoscow of distorting the truth in its account of what happened.

"Sadly, we note that there were, according to police, a lot of people concentrated there who were not from Ukraine," Serhiy Taruta told journalists in an oblique reference to Russia.

Taruta also took exception to a Russian foreign ministry statement which said the clashes on Thursday night showed the Ukrainians had lost control of the situation and Russia reserved the right to protect its compatriots in eastern Ukraine.

"The statement by the (Russian) foreign ministry is not objective and distorts the real situation," said Taruta, a steel tycoon and one of several oligarchs appointed by Ukraine's new rulers to take control of possibly restive regions.

And BuzzFeed's Mike Giglio is in Donetsk:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 12:58 PM ET

Ukraine's prime minister impressed by US support

Reuters — Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk said on Friday he was heartened by "unprecedented support" he had received during a visit to the United States and denounced Russia for rejecting proposals to resolve the crisis over Crimea.

"Unfortunately, Russia refuses to consider any plans," he told reporters on arrival at Kyiv's international airport.

"All they believe in is bringing up tanks and troops, weaponry and soldiers to the Ukrainian-Russian border and strengthening their military presence in Crimea."

Asked about the prospect of US and other international aid for the Ukrainian armed forces, he said: "Ukraine, like the whole world, is only considering how to resolve this crisis by peaceful means.

"The civilized world is taking every measure possible to give technical help to the Ukrainian armed forces. But it must be clearly understood that this now is the responsibility exclusively of the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian state."

UPDATE: 3/14/14 12:50 PM ET

Those 5-6 hours of talks...

Not much seems to have come out of Kerry and Lavrov's hours of talks (besides these bemusing pictures).

Kerry reiterated during his remarks that the United States strongly supports Ukraine's interim government, led by Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk.

He said Lavrov made it clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not prepared to make any decision on Ukraine until after Crimea holds its referendum. Kerry reminded the press that the United States and the international community will not recognize the results of said referendum.

Kerry said there would be consequences if Russia didn't change course, and added that that wasn't a threat... just a reality.

He said he talked with Lavrov about all the diplomatic options before Russia, to address its interests in Ukraine. They also talked about Russia's military exercises near Ukraine's border. Kerry expressed concern over cross-border "hooliganism" that has crept into Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/14/14 12:30 AM ET

Conspiracy theories galore

Interpreter Mag noted that despite the presence of "citizen journalists and well-respected traditional ones" in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk last night, conspiracy theories are running rampant.

The New York Times' Andrew Roth tweeted:

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

Crimea means A LOT to Russia

Russia's foreign minister said Crimea means more to Russia than the Falklands mean to Britain, while speaking in London.

Sergei Lavrov held last-ditch talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, ahead of the referendum to be held in Crimea on Sunday.

As Reuters reminds us:

Argentine forces invaded the Falklands in 1982, prompting Margaret Thatcher, then British prime minister, to dispatch a naval task force which retook them in a short but bloody war. Argentina has stepped up its calls for Britain to discuss the islands' sovereignty in recent years.

And more from Reuters on Lavrov's remarks:

Russia has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine but the Kremlin will respect the result of the upcoming referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region, Lavrov said on Friday.

Lavrov said there was still no common vision with the West over Ukraine and that Russia needed no international structure to help it mediate with Kyiv.

"We will respect the expression of the will of the Crimean people in the upcoming referendum," Lavrov told reporters at a briefing at the residency of the Russian Ambassador to London.

"The Russian Federation does not and cannot have any plans to invade the southeastern regions of Ukraine," Lavrov said.

UPDATE: 3/14/14 11:53 AM ET

No plans to invade, says Lavrov

Lavrov beat Kerry to a statement:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 11:50 AM ET

Russia moving trucks and troops via the sea

Reuters — A Russian warship unloaded trucks, troops and at least one armored personnel carrier at a bay near Sevastopol in Crimea on Friday morning, as Moscow continued to build up its forces on the Ukrainian peninsula.

A Reuters journalist saw trucks driving off the Yamal 156, a large landing ship, at Kazachaya Bay near Sevastopol. One flatbed truck was carrying an armored personnel carrier (APC).

The vehicles drove off a landing ramp on to a low shoreline of open ground near an oil storage terminal from the ship, which is capable of carrying over 300 troops and up to a dozen APCs.

On Monday, a Reuters journalist saw a column of at least 100 Russian vehicles, including trucks, APCs and artillery on a road in the same area. It is Ukrainian territory, some 15 km (10 miles) from the port at Sevastopol which Moscow leases from Kiev to station its Black Sea Fleet.

Crimea's pro-Russian authorities have denied there are any Russian troops on the peninsula outside the Sevastopol base, even though masked gunmen surrounding Ukrainian military installations drive vehicles with Russian license plates and identify themselves to Ukrainian soldiers as Russian troops.

Ukraine's border guards said they captured a Russian soldier driving to the mainland from Crimea on Friday with a uniform, military papers and rifle in his car. The man said he was lost.

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

Ukraine is disappearing in Crimea, already

Journalists in Ukraine are noticing Russian flags and sentiments overshadowing those of Ukraine in Crimea's public spaces, even before a referendum is held:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 11:35 AM ET

Still waiting on Kerry...

But if this photo is any indication, the signs aren't good:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 11:31 AM ET

A crisis isn't good for the currency

Reuters — Ukraine's hryvnia currency weakened to 10.05 to the dollar on Friday, the first time it has sunk to more than 10 since March 5.

The currency, which closed on Thursday at 9.70, has been buffeted by political turmoil since the start of mass demonstrations in November which culminated last month in the removal of its Moscow-backed president.

The hryvnia has lost 18 percent of its value since the beginning of the year.

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

4 detained in Donetsk clashes

Reuters — Police in eastern Ukraine have detained four people accused of fomenting clashes between rival demonstrators in which one man died, the interior minister said on Friday.

(Later reports said at least two people had died.)

The violence was the worst to hit the ex-Soviet state since the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych last month.

A 22-year-old man was stabbed to death in Donetsk, the heartland of Ukraine's Russian-speaking coalfield, after pro-Russian protesters clashed with rivals favoring European integration and denouncing Russia's incursion into Crimea. Four of 29 people treated for injuries remained in hospital.

The right-wing party Svoboda, hostile to Russian policy, said the dead man was one of its local activists.

Journalists saw pro-Russian demonstrators throw eggs, smoke bombs and other missiles and break through a police cordon to beat their opponents with batons. Organizers of the pro-Russia protest said their supporters were also attacked.

"The first four organizers and ringleaders of the mass disorders were found and detained during the night," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page.

"An investigation is continuing. Given the initial evidence overnight, these detentions are only the beginning. We will not go easy on bandits with knives ... An investigation into police actions during these events will also proceed."

Here is Vice News' video report on the events in Donetsk last night.

Warning: Some viewers may find the contents of this video disturbing.

UPDATE: 3/14/14 11:03 AM ET

Putin's ex-aide speaks out

Myroslava Petsa, a foreign correspondent for Ukraine's Channel 5, is tweeting comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin's former aide Andrei Illarionov.

GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie spoke to Illarionov recently, and he told her, "Right now, Russian special forces from the 22nd Brigade are in Ukraine, and we should expect staged attacks on Russian soldiers and citizens."

“[Putin] wants to overthrow the government [in Kyiv] and start a civil war,” he said. “Why not? The reality is that Obama and the rest of the world will do nothing.”

Read the full story here.

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

Russian jets over the Mediterranean

Reuters — Russian fighter jets and helicopters have started training flights over the Mediterranean Sea, a Russian navy spokesman was quoted as saying on Friday.

Spokesman Vadim Serga told Interfax news agency the Northern Fleet's Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier was involved in the exercises, and the training included tactics for engaging aerial targets and other battle techniques.

He made no mention of Russia's standoff with Ukraine over the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, where Russian forces have taken control. The US Navy has sent a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Truxtun, to the Black Sea on what it said was a routine deployment scheduled before the crisis in Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/14/14 10:39 AM ET

The ones with no good choices left: Crimean Tatars

As Crimea hurtled toward a referendum that could see it seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk met the group with the most to lose: Crimean Tatars.

The memory of exile is etched into every Crimean Tatar, after Soviet dictator Josef Stalin deported the entire ethnic group in 1944.

“We know what Russian imperialism is, and we won’t give into these kinds of bribes,” said Enver Umerov, a municipal deputy in Bakhchysarai and a member of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars’ national council.

Umerov was referring to the promises pro-Russian separatists have made to Crimean Tatars including the establishment of Crimean Tatar as the second official language.

We are Muslims, and I know how they treat us there,” said a 57-year-old construction worker. “They’ll find the smallest pretext and all of sudden, I’m a terrorist.”

Here's the scene today, in Crimea:

 

 

UPDATE: 3/14/14 10:27 AM ET

Two, possibly three killed in Donetsk violence

From Alex Padalka:

A fight between hundreds of pro-Russian and pro-Maidan demonstrators in Donetsk resulted in at least two deaths on Thursday, according to Russian-language news aggregator site InfoSMI.com.

A 22-year-old pro-Maidan supporter was stabbed to death, and a 50-year-old man was kicked to death, while another young man may have been stomped to death, according to the site. Seven people remain in critical condition. Earlier reports in Western media only reported one death.

An high-quality amateur video appears to show pro-Maidan supporters outnumbered and retreating to buses, which would suggest they were visitors from outside Donetsk, as the pro-Russian demonstrators have accused them of being.

However, the Guardian noted, "Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of supporting groups in the Donetsk region which favor Kremlin rule and sending militants across the border."

Here is the video (note: GlobalPost was not able to verify the authenticity this video):

UPDATE: 3/14/14 9:40 AM ET

So, Kerry and Lavrov wandered into a field...

The Russian Foreign Ministry is treating this meeting with the gravitas it deserves, as are Kerry and Lavrov:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 9:34 AM ET

Lavrov and Kerry took a walk

UPDATE: 3/14/14 9:13 AM ET

At least two people were killed in Donetsk clashes

 

UPDATE: 3/14/14 7:40 AM ET

Bank runs in Crimea?

Several journos in Crimea (including GlobalPost's Dan Peleschuk) spotted this:

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

Russia issues worrying statement

According to the BBC:

In a separate development on Friday, Russia said it reserved the right to protect "the lives of compatriots and fellow citizens in Ukraine" in a foreign ministry statement, referring to deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

This has many journalists covering Russia and Ukraine worried:

UPDATE: 3/14/14 7:00 AM ET

Kerry to meet Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday, most likely to warn Russia that its intervention in Crimea could trigger sanctions from the US and EU.

Kerry talked with British Prime Minister David Cameron before his meeting with Lavrov, according to the BBC.

This was the statement Cameron gave to the press: "We want to see Ukrainians and the Russians talking to each other and if they don't then there are going to have to be consequences."

UPDATE: 3/14/14 6:30 AM ET

Where things stand

Reuters — Ukraine's premier went before the United Nations on Thursday to urge Russia to negotiate an end to the stand-off between their countries, as street battles in his homeland turned bloody.

At least one pro-Kyiv protester was stabbed and killed in the eastern city of Donetsk when a demonstration in favor of Ukrainian unity was attacked by a Russian separatist crowd.

News of the death broke as Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk addressed an emergency session of the UN Security Council on the crisis opposing his interim government and the Kremlin.

Yatsenyuk said a negotiated solution was still possible, if Russia agrees to withdraw its forces from the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and begin a serious diplomatic dialogue.

"We want to have talks. We don't want to have any kind of military aggression," he insisted, turning to directly address Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

Churkin ridiculed the idea that there had been an "idyllic situation" before the crisis, but said: "Russia does not want war and nor do the Russians, and I'm convinced that Ukrainians don't want this either."

The facts on the ground favor Putin.

Russia's military is far larger than Ukraine's, and Russian troops have already seized control on the Crimean Peninsula, home to a mainly ethnic Russian population and Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Moscow makes no secret of its plan to annex Crimea after Sunday's referendum, which Kyiv and Washington have declared illegitimate — promising the worst East-West split since the Cold War.

Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, rival protests between pro- and anti-Russian factions have turned bloody, threatening to draw the opposing security forces into conflict in the streets.

A 22-year-old Ukrainian was killed when a pro-Kyiv rally in Donetsk was attacked by a pro-Moscow group, the first confirmed death since Crimea was seized.

"According to preliminary conclusions by doctors, he has been stabbed," the local branch of Ukraine's health ministry told AFP, as regional authorities spoke of another 16 wounded in the clashes.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 5:15 PM ET

Signing off

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

UPDATE: 3/13/14 5:08 PM ET

Ukrainian PM asks for truce

Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk stressed at the end of the UN Security Council session that "Crimea was, is, and will be" a part of Ukraine.

He said, "We ask for truce."

Find out more about the Ukrainian politician who now finds himself leading his country during a crisis.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 4:55 PM ET

Russian envoy to the UN responds at UNSC meeting

Via Al Jazeera:

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin responds to the UN Security Council, claiming that Western powers are 'fanning the flames' of conflict in Ukraine: "Why so much interference in the domestic affairs of a state?"

"The legitimate legal president was overthrown and forced to flee from Kiev by the threat of force," says Churkin, in reference to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. "This body knows that this sort of forceful overthrow is illegal...what you have in Kiev is a government of the victors."

Churkin cites secessionist movements from the past century in response to complaints from members of the UN Security Council about the legitimacy of Crimea's referendum.

Several populations within different have exercise their right to self-determination throughout history with different results, argues Churkin. "Why should Crimea be any different?"

UPDATE: 3/13/14 4:45 PM ET

Russia blocks access to Kremlin critics' sites, cites 'violations'

Reuters — Russia blocked access to the internet sites of prominent Kremlin foes Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov on Thursday under a new law critics say is designed to silence dissent in President Vladimir Putin's third term.

The prosecutor general's office ordered Russian internet providers to block Navalny's blog, chess champion and Putin critic Kasparov's internet newspaper and two other sites, grani.ru and ej.ru, state regulator Roskomnadzor said.

The move was the latest evidence of what government opponents see as a crackdown on independent media and particularly the internet, a platform for dissenting views in a nation where state channels dominate the airwaves.

Ej.ru editor Alexander Ryklin called it "monstrous" and a "direct violation of all the principles of freedom of speech," radio station Ekho Moskvy reported. He said he did not know why the site was blocked.

The blockages will increase concern that Putin is seeking to tighten control over Russian society as he faces off against the United States and European Union in a bitter dispute over the future of Ukraine.

It came a day after the editor of independent news site Lenta.ru was dismissed after it received a warning over publication of remarks by a Ukrainian far-right leader in what dozens of its staff members alleged was Kremlin censorship.

"This is the latest political decision taken as part of the cleansing of the media space," Navalny's spokeswoman Anna Veduta said on Twitter. Another Twitter user called it "Black Thursday."

The Kremlin denies allegations of censorship or pressure on the media.

Roskomnadzor said Navalny's blog violated the conditions of house arrest recently imposed on the opposition leader, who is serving a five-year suspended sentence on a theft conviction he said was engineered by the Kremlin and may face another trial.

The other three sites were ordered blocked because they "contain calls for illegal activity and participation in mass events conducted in violation of the established order," the regulator said.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 4:30 PM ET

Pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters clash in Donetsk

The eyes of the international community have shifted to tense Crimea, but the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk is now the site of violent clashes.

Reuters reports:

One person was killed and several were treated for injuries in hospital on Thursday when hundreds of Ukrainian demonstrators clashed in the eastern city of Donetsk, the local health authority said.

Several hundred people chanting slogans praising Russian President Vladimir Putin clashed with a similar-sized crowd condemning Moscow's takeover of Crimea on a central square in the mainly Russian-speaking industrial city.

It was unclear how the dead person was killed. Protesters broke through a police cordon keeping the two sides apart. It was the first death reported in recent Ukrainian violence outside of the capital, Kyiv.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 3:50 PM ET

Yatsenyuk addresses the UNSC

UPDATE: 3/13/14 3:38 PM ET

Power praises Ukraine's restraint

US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, is now speaking to the UN Security Council.

Her comments, via Al Jazeera:

"Ukraine's voice throughout this crisis has been on of reason and restraint in the face of provocation," says Ambassador Power, praising the organization of leadership of the new Ukrainian government in Kiev. "Ukraine's efforts to stabilize its economy and the coming elections merit the wholehearted support from this body and the international community."

"Russia has pursued a course of military action from the outset," says Power, pivoting to Moscow. "This is not the behavior of people who believe they have truth and law on their side."

Power says that nearly 20,000 Russian troops are in Crimea, and nearly 10,000 more troops are ready to entry the country.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 3:28 PM ET

Yatsenyuk appeals to UNSC

Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk is addressing the UN Security Council.

His comments, via Al Jazeera:

"My country has faced military aggression from a neighboring country, a P5. This aggression has no reasons and no grounds," says Yatsenyuk. "We still believe there is a chance to solve this in a peaceful manner."

"The military presence is clearly identified...we urge the Russian Federation to pull back its military forces deployed in Crimea," he adds. "This is not a regional conflict. This conflict goes beyond the borders of Ukraine."

UPDATE: 3/13/14 2:35 PM ET

An independent media blackout begins in Russia

This news hasn't been confirmed by media outlets yet, but journalists watching Russia report that the country is blocking Putin-critic and opposition blogger Alexei Navalny's blog, along with other independent news outlets.

Lending credence to this report is the fact that just yesterday, the chief editor of an independent Russian news site, Lenta.ru, was fired.

Moscow deemed that the site had violated its extremism laws by posting an interview with the leader of a radical Ukrainian nationalist group.

It's only the latest in a round of Russia's authorities scrutinizing media outlets, as the BBC noted:

- State news agency Ria Novosti was closed last year and relaunched under a new editor

- Independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) was dropped by leading cable and satellite operators

- Radio station Ekho Moskvy's director-general, Yuriy Fedutinov, was replaced

UPDATE: 3/13/14 2:25 PM ET

Meanwhile, in Crimea

UPDATE: 3/13/14 2:15 PM ET

Now, Russia wants the OSCE to monitor Ukraine, Crimea

Reuters — Russia has voiced support for the deployment of an OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, including Crimea, the chairman of the European security group said on Thursday, calling this a possible "big step forward."

"The Russian Federation supported the idea of a rapid approval and rapid deployment of a special monitoring mission for Ukraine," Thomas Greminger, Switzerland's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters after a meeting of OSCE envoys in Vienna.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 2:10 PM ET

Ukraine says Russian forces fired on its plane

Reuters — Ukraine accused Russian forces in Crimea of firing on one of its reconnaissance planes from an armored personnel carrier on Thursday, close to the isthmus that joins the Black Sea peninsula to mainland Ukraine.

In a statement noting this was the second such incident in five days, the Ukrainian border guard service said its aircraft was on patrol in early afternoon when "from a Russian guard post near Armyansk, there was flagrant shooting from an APC."

It gave no further details and made no mention of damage to the plane, which it said was unarmed. Russia has denied its troops are involved in the takeover of Crimea by pro-Russian armed groups.

It is unclear if the APC pictured below was involved in the incident:

UPDATE: 3/13/14 1:25 PM ET

White House

Watch the White House's press briefing:

 

 
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UPDATE: 3/13/14 1:10 PM ET

Putin doesn't really care what you think of him

Putin really doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks of him (or his sanity), it seems. And why does he have to, when a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) last week found that his popularity had hit a three-year high at 71.6 percent?

The Washington Post wrote:

You might want to put that down to the fact that the VTsIOM is state-run, but that argument doesn't really hold. The Levada Center, a well-respected independent polling center, has also found that Putin had a 72 percent approval rating, up 7 points from January and a recent record. To put that in context on a world stage, U.S. presidentBarack Obama is currently at 43 percent, according to Gallup, while 79 percent of the French say they don't approve of Francois Hollande's presidency. Putin isn't just popular, he's extraordinarily popular.

A lot of that might be down to how well the Kremlin's propaganda machine has been working.

Here's a look at how Ukraine and Russia are using PR and propaganda in their war of words over Crimea's future and Ukraine's fate.

A billboard in Crimea, casting Sunday's referendum as a choice between Russia and fascism:

 

UPDATE: 3/13/14 12:40 PM ET

'We are doing all we can to avoid war'

Reuters — Ukraine's acting president said on Thursday that Russian forces were concentrated on the border "ready to invade" but he believed international efforts could end Moscow's "aggression" and avert the risk of war.

A statement on the presidential website said Oleksander Turchynov told a local television channel that, when Russian forces took over the southern region of Crimea last week, other units were concentrated on Ukraine's eastern border "ready for an invasion of the territory of Ukraine at any moment."

"We are doing all we can to avoid war, whether in Crimea or in any other region of Ukraine," he said, adding thatUkraine's own armed forces were in a state of full combat readiness.

However, he said: "All of civilized humanity supports our country. All the leading countries of the world are on the side of Ukraine, and I am sure that this united effort in the international arena, bringing together all democratic countries, can still allow us to halt this aggression."

UPDATE: 3/13/14 12:00 PM ET

US and EU will have a 'serious' response if the Crimea referendum goes forward: Kerry

Reuters — The United States and the European Union will respond on Monday with a "serious series of steps" against Russia if a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region goes ahead on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.

Kerry told a congressional hearing he hoped to avoid such steps, which include sanctions, through discussions with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in London on Friday.

"If there is no sign of any capacity to be able to move forward and resolve this issue there will be a very serious series of steps in Europe and here with respect to the options that are available to us," Kerry said in testimony on the State Department's 2015 budget request.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 11:30 AM ET

Kerry and Lavrov will meet again

Reuters — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed proposals for resolving the crisis in Ukraine during a telephone conversation on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Lavrov and Kerry, who are due to meet in London on Friday, discussed "the situation in Ukraine, taking into account existing Russian and US proposals to normalize the atmosphere and provide for civil peace," the ministry said.

This was Lavrov and Kerry last week, as interpreted by the Russian Foreign Ministry's Twitter account:

UPDATE: 3/13/14 11:10 AM ET

Russia begins military exercises near Ukraine's border

Reuters — Russia announced on Thursday it had started military exercises near the border with Ukraine, in what is likely to be seen as a show of force in the standoff with Kyiv and the West over Crimea.

The Defense Ministry confirmed exercises had begun in the Southern Military District, involving 8,500 artillery men, after pictures appeared on social media showing military vehicles on the move in the area.

The exercise includes a large number of artillery and Grad, Hurricane and Tornado multiple-rocket launchers, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Also involved are Howitzers, Nona self-propelled artillery and Rapier anti-tank guns, and the aim is to improve cooperation with motorized infantry, tank, air-assault and marine units.

One of the exercises will involve firing at a conventional enemy up to 15 km (nine miles) away and half of the training will be at night, it said.

Russian forces' takeover of Ukraine's Crimea region has been bloodless but tensions are high there following the pro-Russian regional parliament's decision to hold a referendum on Sunday on joining Russia. Kyiv and the West say the referendum is illegal.

Russia's armed forces also held much larger exercises in its Central and Western military districts last month, alarming the West and Kyiv and causing concern in eastern regions of Ukraine where most people are Russian speakers.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 11:08 AM ET

Putin says... this isn't our fault

Reuters — President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia was not to blame for the crisis over Ukraine's Crimea region.

At a meeting with paralympic delegations in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Putin thanked officials for keeping politics out of the Winter Paralympics being hosted by Russia.

"I would like to express gratitude to you for keeping the Paralympics out of politics. And the uneasy circumstances which you well know about did not affect it. And I would like to stress that Russia was not the initiator of the circumstances that have taken shape," he said.

UPDATE: 3/13/14 11:05 AM ET

'We cannot compete with Russia on our own'

Reuters — Ukraine's parliament appealed on Thursday to the United Nations to discuss the occupation by Russian forces of its Crimea peninsula and said it reserved the right to ask individual countries for help in resolving the issue.

In a debate hours before Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk was to address the Security Council in New York, some members called for a UN peacekeeping force, though the resolution that was passed did not specify that form of assistance.

In a second vote, the chamber endorsed a document confirming that Ukraine sought deeper integration with theEuropean Union.

A total of 250 members in the 450-seat assembly, which last month removed a Moscow-backed president, endorsed the appeal to the UN, citing the "flagrant violation by the Russian Federation of the fundamental principles of international law".

Ukraine, the appeal said, reserved the right to ask "any state or regional system of collective security for help in restoring its sovereignty".

"Parliament must ask the UN to bring in a peacekeeping contingent," Oles Doniy, an independent member allied with parties favoring integration with Europe, told the chamber. "We cannot compete with Russia on our own."

UPDATE: 3/13/14 10:50 AM ET

Ukraine's parliament votes for 60,000-strong national guard

Just days ahead of Sunday's referendum in Crimea that will decide whether the autonomous region stays within Ukraine or joins Russia, Ukraine's parliament voted to boost the national guard to 60,000-strong.

The BBC reported:

The new National Guard is expected to be recruited from activists involved in the recent pro-Western protests as well as from military academies.

Ukraine's national security chief Andriy Parubiy said the Guard would be deployed to "ensure state security, defend the borders, and eliminate terrorist groups."

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk captured this scene just two weeks ago, when potential recruits were contemplating signing up for the Maidan's "self-defense" force in Kyiv. The poster says, "Glory to Ukraine!"

UPDATE: 3/13/14 10:15 AM ET

Merkel warns Russia of 'massive' damage

Reuters — Germany's Angela Merkel warned Moscow on Thursday that it risked "massive" political and economic damage if it refused to change course on Ukraine, saying Western leaders were united in their readiness to impose sanctions on Russia if necessary.

The chancellor, using her strongest language since the start of the crisis and removing any suspicion that Germany might seek to avoid a confrontation with President Vladimir Putin, said his actions would lead to "catastrophe" for Ukraine and much more.

"We would not only see it, also as neighbors of Russia, as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union's relationship with Russia," she said in a speech in parliament. "No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically."

Merkel has acknowledged that her efforts to persuade Putin to negotiate via a "contact group" with the transition government in Kyiv — which he accuses of ousting Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych unlawfully — have failed and time is running out.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 5:15 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. We will resume coverage tomorrow.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 4:50 PM ET

Yatsenyuk says greatest disaster of this century would be restoring the USSR

UPDATE: 3/12/14 4:20 PM ET

'Mr. President, it’s all about freedom'

Here is the pool report on Obama and Yatsenyuk's meeting (via Circa):

POTUS praised Yatsenyuk and “the courage of the Ukrainian people standing up on behalf of democracy.” He said, “We saw in the Maidan how ordinary people from all parts of the country said we want a change. The prime minister was part of that” and “showed tremendous courage.”

Yatsenyuk, seated in the wing chair to POTUS’s right, spoke in strong terms that belied his slight figure and sober demeanor. “My country feels that the United States stands by the Ukrainian people,” he said in fluent English. “Mr. President, it’s all about freedom. We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty and we will never surrender.”

Read more here.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 4:10 PM ET

'We will stand with Ukraine,' says Obama

President Barack Obama warned Russia on Wednesday that the West will be forced to apply a cost to Moscow if it fails to change course in its dispute with Ukraine.

Obama held face-to-face talks with new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk in the Oval Office and told reporters with Yatsenyuk seated at his side that, "We will stand with Ukraine."

Yatsenyuk said Ukraine stands ready for talks on the crisis, and vowed, "We will never surrender" to Russia.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 4:05 PM ET

Fear and loathing in Kyiv

From Senior Correspondent Paul Ames:

KYIV, Ukraine — Taras Senyk looks like Vladimir Putin’s worse nightmare.

Dressed in military fatigues festooned with Ukrainian nationalist symbols, the 71-year-old Cossack leader bristles with indignation under his tasseled fur hat.

“This is an open aggression against Ukraine,” he growls in response to the Russian president’s seizure of Crimea. “Now they dream of making this aggression legal.”

Senyk has been manning the barricades in downtown Kyiv since the early days of the demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian regime last month.

Despite his outrage, the mustachioed veteran is something of a voice of moderation in a city where fear of war mingles with mounting frustration over the lack of action by the Ukrainian government and its Western allies to haltRussia’s tightening grip on the Black Sea peninsula.

“Ukraine has established itself as a peaceful country, but this peaceful spirit is costing us much,” Senyk says beside his bivouac on Kyiv’s main square, known as the Maidan. “Normally we should be arming our people, but it’s too early for that, we have to see what decisions are taken by the international community, whether they can calm Putin down.”

Read the full story here.

(Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: 3/12/14 3:45 PM ET

More from Sevastopol

These images were captured by Yura Padalka, who witnessed a self-defense group tackle two men to the ground in Sevastopol's Gagarin neighborhood. See the post below for more details.

(Yura Padalka)

(Yura Padalka)

(Yura Padalka)

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

Report on pro-Russian TV alleges pro-Maidan visitor opened fire in Sevastopol

From GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka:

A pro-Maidan visitor from eastern Ukraine opened fire in Sevastopol's Gagarin neighborhood March 9 at a member of the local pro-Russian self-defense force, according to the pro-Russian TV channel Independent Television of Sevastopol. A local blog post corroborated the report, along with testimony from local residents, among them Yura Padalka, who was on the scene after shots were fired and witnessed the self-defense squad tackle two men to the ground.

The men immediately confessed that they were from the Maidan and were renting an apartment nearby, Padalka said.

Seven shots were fired but no one was harmed, according to local media, and the self-defense group detained a 35-year-old resident of Ivano-Frankivsk whose name has not been released. The man was found in possession of a 50-year-old Makarov pistol and a knife, which he said he received in Kyiv, the police said. The man said he rented an apartment with three others in Sevastopol, where they came to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

Only one pro-Russian news channel has reported the shootout so far and no further details about the identity of the men and one woman has been revealed. It's not possible to determine the authenticity of the video or whether it is propaganda distributed by pro-Russian groups:

The video shows the interrogation of three people, all of whom appeared unharmed, although one man seemed intoxicated and requested "his pills." Another man who claimed he was a city administration volunteer in Kyiv said he was asked to help distribute leaflets by unidentified men there. The needles shown in the video contained a substance capable of causing cardiac arrest 10 minutes after injection, the man claiming to be a city administration volunteer said. The needles belonged to a "surgeon" that came with the men, according to a woman testifying to the police.

Many residents of Sevastopol have a firm belief that a large portion of Maidan supporters were on drugs during the protests in Kiyv, and rumors of neo-nazi groups trying to penetrate the peninsula are running rampant.

Members of the international press have reported regular harassment in Crimea and Sevastopol from pro-Russian supporters, while most Ukrainian channels have been blocked in the peninsula. No other reports about the incident have appeared in the Western or Ukrainian press nor on the pro-Russian RT network.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 2:45 PM ET

Ukrainian PM arrives at White House

Here's a first glimpse of interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk arriving at the White House:

UPDATE: 3/12/14 2:35 PM ET

David, meet Goliath

Reuters — Some 40,000 volunteers have come forward to join a proposed new National Guard, Ukraine's new pro-Western authorities say, a tentative first step towards overhauling a military outgunned and outmanned by Russia.

With Ukraine's Crimea peninsula firmly in the grip of Russian forces, parliament on Thursday considered a bill to create a 33,000-strong force.

Initiated by acting President Oleksander Turchynov, who this week outlined the sorry state of the armed forces, the bill tasks the guard with maintaining public order, protecting sites like nuclear power plants and "upholding the constitutional order and restoring the activity of state bodies."

"As of today, Ukraine's military enlistment offices have registered 40,000 volunteers," an official statement quoted Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, as saying.

"Already tomorrow, the self-defense forces and activists of the Maidan will start their training."

The acting defense minister said Ukraine had only 6,000 combat-ready infantry compared to more than 200,000 Russian troops on its eastern borders.

Among the dozens of men in combat gear still camped out on Kyiv's Independence Square and vowing to remain until they are satisfied with the new government, there was both interest and skepticism towards the new force.

Kolya Bondar, who leads a group calling itself the 4th Cossack Hundred, wanted more details of the government's plan. He suggested that, like citizen armies in Switzerland or Israel, civilians should be encouraged to keep rifles at home.

"I've heard of it," a man called Mykola said uncertainly. "Sure. We're ready to fight Russia. We'll push them all the way to Siberia."

This graphic, from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, shows the totality of Russia's forces, based on figures from the 2014 IISS Military Balance report.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 2:30 PM ET

On the streets of Simferopol...

UPDATE: 3/12/14 1:55 PM ET

The rarity of independent media in Russia

Another blow to independent media in Russia today, per journalists who report from Russia:

According to Kyiv Post, Moscow's Federal Service for the Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications issued a warning to Lenta.ru for posting an interview with the leader of the radical Right Sector pro-Ukrainian group, Dmytro Yarosh.

MORE: BBC News confirmed the firing of Lenta.ru's editor-in-chief, Galina Timchenko.

"She will be replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, who until recently headed a staunchly pro-Kremlin website."

Meanwhile, the Kremlin-backed Russia Today has thrived. Here are some thing you might want to know about RT, before relying on its coverage of Ukraine.

And the flippant answers RT gave BuzzFeed about its coziness with the Kremlin.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 1:15 PM ET

McCain & Co. headed to Ukraine

Reuters — Eight US senators will travel to Ukraine on Thursday to meet with leaders of its interim government and other groups, Senate aides said on Wednesday, amid tensions over Russia's efforts to annex Ukraine's Crimean region.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain will lead the group, which includes his fellow Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Three Democratic senators are also going: Richard Durbin of Illinois, Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

McCain and Murphy, who is chairman of the Senate's European subcommittee, traveled to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, in December and addressed anti-government demonstrators during protests that helped lead to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

As for the tone McCain might strike... see the tweet below:

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

Senate committee to vote on Ukraine bill containing sanctions

Reuters — Ahead of the Ukrainian interim prime minister's meeting with President Obama, Reuters reports:

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote Wednesday on legislation addressing the Ukraine crisis that contains sanctions and IMF reforms, a senior member of the committee said.

Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, told reporters on Wednesday he expected the panel would pass the bill, sending it for a vote in the full Senate.

He also said it contained aid for Ukraine and backing for a $1 billion loan guarantee.

There had been concerns that the bill would be delayed for weeks because committee members had been unable to agree on the IMF funding, which was requested by the Obama administration.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 11:45 AM ET

The EU is threatening sanctions and ready to sign a deal with Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin was facing pressure from all sides on Wednesday. Here's what the different European leaders had to say (via Reuters):

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk:

The European Union will probably sign the political part of its association agreement with Ukraine next week, Tusk said on Wednesday.

"With Chancellor Merkel we both believe that signing of the association agreement with Ukraine as soon as possible would be beneficial," Tusk said at a joint conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"If there are no technical obstacles, signing of this (political) part of the association agreement should take place at the next meeting of the European Council, which is next week," Tusk added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Merkel said on Wednesday Europe will impose tougher sanctions on Russia next week if there is no sign in the next few days that Moscow is willing to engage in a "contact group" to seek a diplomatic solution for Ukraine.

"Almost a week ago we said if that wasn't successful within a few says we'd have to consider a second stage of sanctions," she said on a visit to Warsaw. "Six days have gone by since then and we have to recognize, even though we'll continue our efforts to form a contact group, that we haven't made any progress."

If no progress is made by Monday, EU foreign ministers will impose sanctions such as visa bans and asset freezes on those responsible for Russia's actions against Ukraine and EU leaders will discuss this at their summit next Thursday, Merkel said.

French President Francois Hollande:

Hollande told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that he had to do everything to stop Ukraine's Crimea region from joining Russia, something that would be an "unacceptable annexation."

"The president reminded (him) that the March 16 referendum, for which preparations are ongoing in an opaque way, has no legal basis," Hollande's office said in a statement after the two men spoke earlier in the day. "The president underlined that there was still time to avoid a pointless and dangerous escalation."

UPDATE: 3/12/14 11:30 AM ET

How a man nicknamed 'the Goblin' came to lead Crimea

Reuters — Within a week of its building being taken over by armed gunmen last month, the regional parliament in Crimea was voting in favor of the Ukrainian region becoming part of Russia.

How that was achieved under the leadership of Sergei Aksyonov, 41, a Russian separatist whose political party won 4 percent of the vote at the parliamentary election in 2010, was a master class in vote rigging and intimidation, according to several opposition lawmakers.

"It was all a great spectacle, a tragic spectacle," said Leonid Pilunsky, one of a number of regional lawmakers who say a vote behind closed doors to install Aksyonov was fixed and key decisions were taken before anyone could respond.

Moscow says Crimea is in the grip of a home-spun uprising, a popular response to the revolt in Kyiv which ousted Ukraine's Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

But for the authorities in Kyiv and local politicians still loyal to Ukraine, the rapid pace of events were evidence of a carefully orchestrated campaign from Moscow.

Moscow denies any role in installing Aksyonov, who is known from his business days by the nickname "The Goblin." But even those close to the Kremlin say Russia picked him.

"Moscow always bet on Yanukovych. But after the coup in Kyiv on February 22 ... Moscow decided it needed to back the secession of Crimea from Ukraine. Then they looked for who could be its leader," said Sergei Markov, a political analyst sympathetic to the Kremlin who often explains its workings abroad.

"They chose Aksyonov."

Read the full story here.

And this is "the Goblin"

UPDATE: 3/12/14 9:30 AM ET

G7 says they won't recognize outcome of Crimea's referendum

Reuters — Leaders of the Group of Seven economies told Russia on Tuesday to stop its work on a referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region and "cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea" or face action.

The statement came in response to Crimea's parliament voting to join Russia and setting a referendum for Sunday on the decision in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.

The G7 leaders said they would not recognize the outcome of the referendum, which they said "would have no legal effect," calling it a "deeply flawed process which would have no moral force" because of the presence of Russian troops in the region.

Russian efforts to annex Crimea, a region in southern Ukrainian that is home to the Russian Black Sea fleet, would violate five different bilateral and international agreements, including the United Nations charter, the G7 leaders said in a statement released by the White House. It also "could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states," they said.

"Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively," the G7 statement said.

The leaders called on Russia to withdraw its forces in Crimea, begin talks with Ukraine, and allow international observers into the region.

President Barack Obama was scheduled to meet Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk at the White House on Wednesday. The United States has said it is prepared to sanction Russia over the Crimea issue, andEuropean Union member states agreed to wording on sanctions on Thursday.

The G7 group includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, theEuropean Council and the European Commission. In 1998 it added Russia to form the G8.

Russia is scheduled to hold the next Group of Eight summit in Sochi in June but the leaders of the G7 have suspended planning for that meeting because of the crisis in Ukraine.

"We also remind the Russian Federation of our decision to suspend participation in any activities related to preparation of a G8 Sochi meeting until it changes course," the leaders said.

Crimea has strong cultural ties to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia has not been acting in Crimea but allowing local self-defense units to act spontaneously - an assertion derided as "Putin's fiction" by Washington.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 7:50 AM ET

A call to arms

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

Ukraine is calling on volunteers from the so called "self-defense" groups among the protesters on EuroMaidan to join a new national guard in the hope of quickly mobilizing 20,000 troops.

National Security Secretary Andriy Parabiy made the announcement at a news conference where he warned Russian troops over the border were just "two or three hours from Kyiv."

Parabiy said Ukrainian army units were on alert and positioned to thwart any Russian advance. He declined to confirm reports that Ukraine has just 6,000 troops that are combat ready at the moment.

He said, however, that morale among the troops was strong, including those under siege in Crimea. Parabiy added that border guards and police had prevented efforts by Russian special forces' infiltrators to enter southern and eastern Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/12/14 7:00 AM ET

Ukraine's acting president says 'cannot launch military operation in Crimea'

Agence France-Presse — Ukraine's acting president has said the country will not use its army to stop Crimea from seceding, the latest sign that a Russian annexation of the strategic peninsula may be imminent.

Oleksandr Turchynov's Tuesday comments came after the Crimean parliament voted for independence ahead of a referendum on joining Russia, while Washington and Moscow locked horns in one of their fiercest clashes since the Cold War.

The interim leader said intervening on the southeastern Black Sea peninsula, where Kremlin-backed forces have seized de facto control, would leave Ukraine exposed on its eastern border, where he said Russia has massed "significant tank units."

"We cannot launch a military operation in Crimea, as we would expose the eastern border and Ukraine would not be protected," Turchynov told AFP.

"They're provoking us to have a pretext to intervene on the Ukrainian mainland... (but) we cannot follow the scenario written by the Kremlin."

Sunday's referendum is being organized by Crimea's self-appointed leaders, who are not recognized by the new pro-European government in Kyiv, installed after three months of protests that resulted in 100 deaths and the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Conversely, Turchynov is not recognized by Moscow, which still insists Yanukovych is Ukraine's legitimate president.

Turchynov described the secession referendum as a "sham" whose outcome would be decided "in the offices of the Kremlin."

World powers have repeatedly called for Moscow and Kyiv to come together to seek a solution to the escalating crisis, but Turchynov said Russia's leaders were refusing any such talks.

"Unfortunately, for now Russia is rejecting a diplomatic solution to the conflict," he said.

Western powers, led by the US and Germany, insist that forming an "international contact group" is the way out of the crisis over the culturally fractured ex-Soviet state, which erupted into protest after Yanukovych pulled out of a deal on closer ties with the European Union in favor of a now-frozen bailout from Russia.

Obama hosts new PM

Turchynov's comments came as Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk headed to the White House for a meeting Wednesday with US President Barack Obama that should add credibility to his untested team.

Yatsenyuk will also use the visit to iron out the details of a $35-billion aid package he says his country's teetering economy needs to stay afloat over the next two years.

The European Union has also announced trade breaks worth 500 million euros ($690 million) that could ease Ukraine's burden from restrictions that Russia has threatened in response to Kyiv's tilt toward the West.

The White House is leaving no doubt about the message it intends to send Russia with the visit.

Yatsenyuk will be treated like any other foreign leader visiting Washington, and be greeted by Obama in the Oval Office — a symbol of US power — for talks and a short photo opportunity at which both men will make remarks.

Washington says the reception for Yatsenyuk is intended to show that it believes the interim government in Kyiv has been playing a responsible role since Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Yatsenyuk will also address the UN Security Council on Thursday, diplomats said.

"We strongly support Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday, when asked what message Obama was trying to send Moscow.

At the same time, and despite the apparent impasse in diplomacy between Russia and the United States on Ukraine, Carney stressed that the White House was still offering the Kremlin an "off ramp" in the crisis.

Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry failed again Tuesday to bridge differences on resolving the crisis in a phone conversation, with no decision yet made on whether Kerry would take up an invitation to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the State Department said.

Lavrov told the notoriously prickly Russian leader that Kerry had snubbed the invitation, after apparently initially accepting.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 4:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

Ukraine's interim prime minister is expected meet President Obama on Wednesday. We will pick our coverage back up then.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 2:30 PM ET

The haunting X's on doors

Kyiv Post reported this story from Bakhchisaray, Crimea, where Crimean Tatars stand guard near a mosque:

In recent days, unknown persons have been going around Crimean Tatar villages and marking their homes with white crosses, sowing panic among many women and outraging the men. The police here, who have been disoriented following the abrupt — and many claim illegal — change of power in Crimea last month, have neglected their duties.

This has left the Crimean Tatars themselves to move to ensure the safely of their homes and villages.

“Every evening men gather and patrol the streets to prevent provocations,” said Seitumer Seitumirov, 28, an economist by education.

The New Yorker offered this historical background:

It was an X, cut deep into the gray metal of the gate, and its significance cut even deeper, evoking a memory Kadyrov shares with all Crimean Tatars. Kadyrov, who is thirty-one, grew up hearing stories about marks on doors. In May of 1944, Stalin ordered his police to tag the houses of Crimean Tatars, the native Muslim residents of the peninsula. Within a matter of days, all of them—almost two hundred thousand people—were evicted from their homes, loaded onto trains, and sent to Central Asia, on the pretext that the community had collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Crimea.

And GlobalPost's Ben C. Solomon met some of these Crimean Tatars protecting their mosques, homes and communities:

 

 

UPDATE: 3/11/14 2:10 PM ET

No real options in Crimea's referendum

Reuters — Sunday's vote in Ukraine's Crimea is being officially billed as a chance for the peninsula's peoples to decide fairly and freely their future — but in fact there is no room on the ballot paper for voting "Nyet" to control by Russia.

The Crimean voter will have the right to choose only one of two options in the March 16 referendum which the region's pro-Russian leadership, protected by Russian forces, announced earlier this month.

According to a format of the ballot paper, published on the parliament's website, the first question will ask: "Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?"

The second asks: "Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part ofUkraine?"

At first glance, the second option seems to offer the prospects of the peninsula remaining within Ukraine.

But the 1992 national blueprint — which was adopted soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then quickly abolished by the young post-Soviet Ukrainian state — is far from doing that.

This foresees giving Crimea all the qualities of an independent entity within Ukraine — but with the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants — including Russia.

With the pro-Russian assembly already saying it wants to return Crimea to Russia, this second option only offers a slightly longer route to shifting the peninsula back under Russian control, analysts say.

The option of asking people if they wish to stick with the status quo — in which Crimea enjoys autonomy but remains part of Ukraine — is not on offer.

Any mark in one of the boxes is regarded as a "Da" vote. Ballot papers will be regarded as spoiled if a voter fills in both boxes or indeed does not fill in either.

Those who stay away will also not influence the outcome, since the result will simply be based on the option preferred by a majority of those voting.

Several of the ad flyers and billboards informing voters about the referendum have framed the vote as a choice between fascism and joining Russia, as Yura Padalka reported yesterday.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 2:00 PM ET

Dark days ahead for pro-Ukrainian activists in Crimea

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports from Crimea:

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — Volodymyr Protsenko has given himself until March 16 to speak his mind.

But after next Sunday, when residents of Crimea are set to head to the polls in a vote that’s expected to back a decision by the new Moscow-installed authorities to join Russia, the 60-year-old writer and Ukrainian nationalist says he’ll clam up.

Writing about Ukraine’s rocky history under Soviet rule had been risky enough in this historically Russian city of about 340,000, where nostalgia for the USSR runs high and tolerance for pro-Ukraine sentiments remains low.

Now, Protsenko says, it may be outright dangerous.

“After the referendum, I won’t say a word,” he says. “They’ll pressure me into promising I won’t speak out.”

Nationally conscious Ukrainians like Protsenko — a career police officer-turned-poet — have never felt completely at ease in Sevastopol, where they constitute a small minority of the population. But many fear bigger troubles are only beginning.

Read the full report.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 1:45 PM ET

Putin hears little dissent

Reuters writes from Moscow:

Surrounded by faithful aides, President Vladimir Putin hears no opposition to his plans in Crimea, allowing him to drive Russia's bid to reclaim Ukraine's southern region guided by little more than his "inner voice."

Former and current officials paint a picture of a leader who counts on the unswerving loyalty of a handful of advisers from his administration and security services to draft policy that has plunged relations with the West to a new post-Cold War low.

GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie gathered some psychoanalysis on Russia's favorite strong man:

For some, he’s the man without a face. For others, he has too many. He’s a thug, a killer, a statesman, a dude. He’s widely admired and even more widely reviled.

One thing is certain: Russian President Vladimir Putin is not an easy man to fit into clear categories. Rather, he is a human Rorschach blot into which the observer projects a revealing chunk of his or her own worldview.

President George W. Bush relished a bromance with “Pootie-Poot” and enthused about looking into the man’s eyes and “getting a sense of his soul.” Subsequent leaders have been more circumspect.

Since Ukraine erupted last fall, with rioters eventually toppling the country’s pro-Moscow president and Russia moving to secure Crimea, a lot of time and energy has been devoted to plumbing the supposed depths of Putin’s psyche. Every armchair strategist worth his or her salt has a theory about why the king of the Kremlin is behaving in such a brazen, bizarre or bemusing fashion.

Amateur shrinks have tied Putin’s behavior to his diminutive stature — by some accounts he’s only 5 feet 5 inches tall, others say he is 5 foot 7, but since he supposedly wears lifts in his shoes it’s difficult to tell.

Read more in "A brief psychoanalysis of Vladimir Putin"

UPDATE: 3/11/14 1:30 PM ET

Senate panel won't decide on Ukraine bill today

Reuters — A US Senate panel will not vote on Tuesday on a bill to address the crisis in Ukraine, an aide to the committee said, as members have been unable to agree on what should be in the legislation.

There was no immediate word on when the vote may take place and the delay raised the possibility that the committee would not be able to vote on the legislation before breaking for a week-long recess.

Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had hoped to vote on a bill to address the crisis in Ukraine, which aides said on Monday would include sanctions as well as aid and the backing for loan guarantees.

The committee must approve the legislation before it can be sent for a vote by the full Senate.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 12:15 PM ET

A Freudian slip

Senior Correspondent Paul Ames, who is in Ukraine's capital Kyiv, passes on an interesting tidbit:

"Yanukovych apparently had a little slip up in his speech insisting at first 'I am the IL-legitimate president of Ukraine' which is causing some amusement among Ukrainian tweeters."

Read Ames' report from Kyiv:

The air of normality evaporates as you pull into the city center.

Amid gold-domed churches, men in camouflage cluster around fires. There’s a strong smell of wood smoke from the stoves warming the militia posts.

Story-high barricades of brick, tires and garbage block city streets. Everywhere there are photos surrounded by piles of flowers marking spots where demonstrators fell when the security forces opened fire on them last month.

In the vast central plaza known as Maidan — the ground zero of the revolt that toppled the pro-Russian regime and triggered Moscow’s invasion of the southern Crimea peninsula — a concert is taking place.

A folk choir intones a haunting patriotic tune on a stage decorated with Orthodox Christian iconography and a giant painting of insurrectionary militia fighters waving the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag.

This picture is from two days ago:

UPDATE: 3/11/14 11:50 AM ET

Sanctions incoming for Russia

Reuters — Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the European Union would impose sanctions on Russia starting on Monday over its military intervention in Ukraine's Crimea region.

"When it comes to sanctions on Russia, a decision has in fact already been made, especially on the procedure of introducing sanctions. The consequence of this will be the start of sanctions on Monday," Tusk told a news conference on Tuesday.

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

OSCE heads to eastern Ukraine

Reuters — After repeatedly being refused entry to Crimea, an unarmed OSCE military observer mission will instead go to other parts of Ukraine in the coming days, including the country's east, the European security body said on Tuesday.

Seventeen member states of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including the United States, have so far confirmed they will take part in the changed mission requested by Ukraine, an OSCE spokesman said.

During the last attempt on Saturday to get into Ukraine's Crimea, which is now controlled by pro-Russia forces, warning shots were fired when the observer mission was turned back. Nobody was hurt.

It was the third straight day the OSCE mission had been turned back while trying to cross the narrow isthmus connecting the isolated Black Sea peninsula to the rest of Ukraine.

This was the scene on Friday:

Read more about the OSCE, and its role in the Ukraine crisis.

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

Capitol Hill gets briefed

Politico reported that top Obama administration officials are heading to Capitol Hill Tuesday to give Congress the latest news on Ukraine.

The briefing, scheduled for 5 p.m., comes as the House prepares to vote on a resolution that would call for sanctions on Russia.

It also comes ahead of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk's trip to meet Obama on Wednesday.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 10:40 AM ET

Crimea closes airspace

Reuters — Crimea has closed its airspace to commercial flights, five days ahead of a referendum organized by its pro-Russia authorities called to join the Black Sea region to Russia.

A Ukrainian airline plane was turned back on Tuesday on its way from Kyiv to Simferopol, the region's main city, and had to return to the Ukrainian capital.

The captain told passengers that the Crimean authorities had closed airspace to all commercial flights and there had been no flights on Monday either.

Tension has increased in the region ahead of Sunday's referendum which pro-Russian leaders, backed by Russian forces, have called despite it being denounced as illegal by Ukraine's new rulers and Western governments.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 10:00 AM ET

Ukraine raising a new national guard

Reuters — Ukraine will raise a new national guard force among military veterans in response to Russian attempts to annex Crimea, the acting president told parliament on Tuesday.

Oleksander Turchynov said mismanagement of the armed forces under his ousted predecessor meant that the Ukrainian military had to be rebuilt "effectively from scratch." The acting defense minister said the country had only 6,000 combat-ready infantry compared to over 200,000 Russian troops on its eastern borders.

Turchynov, who warned against provoking further Russian action, said the National Security and Defense Council decided to establish a National Guard, using the existing Interior Ministry forces as a base. The goal would be "to defend citizens from criminals and from internal or external aggression."

A partial mobilization of volunteers drawn from those with previous military experience would begin, he said.

Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk accused Russia of seeking to undermine the world security system by its incursion into Crimea.

Yatsenuk, who travels to the United States on Thursday for talks with President Barack Obama, said of the crisis on the Crimea peninsula where Russian forces are backing separatists:

"This is not a two-sided conflict. These are actions by the Russian Federation aimed at undermining the system of global security."

Yatsenuk told parliament that Ukraine remained open for "transparent" negotiations with Russia to build a new relationship in which Moscow recognized Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 7:30 AM ET

No talks with Putin

US Secretary of State John Kerry rejected an offer to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin until Moscow looks at US proposals concerning the crisis in Ukraine.

Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the presence of Russian forces in Crimea made negotiations extremely difficult, according to the BBC.

On Monday, Russia said it was drafting its own set of proposals in response to the US.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 7:20 AM ET

Sanctions against Russia could begin this week

Agence France-Presse — French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned Tuesday that sanctions against Russia could come as early as this week if Moscow does not respond to Western proposals to solve the crisis in Ukraine.

"If they respond positively (to the proposals), (US Secretary of State) John Kerry will go to Moscow, and then sanctions will not be immediate. If they do not respond or if they respond negatively, there will be a series of sanctions that could be taken as early as this week," he said on France Inter radio.

Kerry sent Russia a series of proposals to try and de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, where Kremlin-backed forces have seized the Crimea peninsula, which now plans to hold a referendum Sunday on switching the region's allegiance from Kyiv to Moscow.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a televised meeting Monday that the proposals "do not suit us very much," adding Moscow would unveil its own solution to the crisis.

Fabius said the sanctions would involve "freezing personal assets of Russians or Ukrainians and sanctions on travel, regarding visas."

He added that Sunday's referendum in Crimea is "illegal."

UPDATE: 3/11/14 6:55 AM ET

Yanukovych says I am Ukraine's commander-in-chief

Agence France-Presse — Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday said that he was still the country's legitimate president and commander-in-chief, saying he believed he would be able to return to Kyiv soon.

"I remain not just the sole legitimate president of Ukraine but also commander-in-chief," he said in his first public appearance in over a week, in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

"As soon as the circumstances allow — and I am sure there is not long to wait — I will without doubt return to Kyiv," he added.

In contrast to his lengthy press conference when he re-emerged in Russia, Yanukovych, who was speaking Russian, gave only a seven minute statement in a conference hall in Rostov-on-Don, standing in front of several Ukrainian flags.

He then left the stage alone without taking questions.

He reaffirmed his belief that power in Kyiv had been taken by a "band of ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists" and said that presidential elections planned in May would be "absolutely illegitimate and illegal."

Yanukovych told the new pro-West authorities in Ukraine who took over after he fled to Russia last month that "sooner or later, most likely sooner" they would be held responsible for their actions.

"You will be made responsible for the suffering of the people. Ukraine is now going through a difficult time," he said.

He blamed them for the fact that Ukraine appears about to lose control of Crimea which is set to be claimed by Russia after a referendum next week.

"Your actions have led to the fact that Crimea is separating and the people of the south and east are demanding respect, even in the face of machine guns," he said.

"We will get through this trouble, the people who have been deceived by you will see this and the country will rise up and unify," said Yanukovych.

However contrary to expectations, Yanukovych made no other reference to the crisis over Crimea in his statement.

UPDATE: 3/11/14 6:30 AM ET

A wrap of yesterday's major events

Reuters — A pro-Russian force opened fire in seizing a Ukrainian military base in Crimea on Monday and NATO announced reconnaissance flights along its eastern frontiers as confrontation around the Black Sea peninsula showed no sign of easing.

Ukrainian activists trying to cross into Crimea to show solidarity with opponents of last week's Russian military takeover there said they were halted by men in uniforms of the now outlawed riot police. One of these fired at close range, hitting a man in the chest, apparently with rubber bullets.

With diplomacy at a standstill, Russia said the United States had spurned an invitation to hold new talks on resolving the crisis, the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War — although Washington said later a meeting of foreign ministers was possible this week, if Moscow shows it is ready to "engage."

The US-led NATO defense alliance said AWACS early warning aircraft, once designed to counter feared Soviet nuclear missile strikes, would start reconnaissance flights on Tuesday over Poland and Romania to monitor the situation in Ukraine, flying from bases in Germany and Britain.

The United States on Tuesday will also begin previously planned military training exercises in the region, the first since the Russian intervention in Crimea. A US Navy destroyer will participate in maneuvers with Romanian and Bulgarian warships in the Black Sea, across from Crimea. In Poland, US fighter jets will take part in joint exercises.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told Germany's Bild newspaper, however, that Western powers were not considering military action and wanted a diplomatic solution. European Union governments are considering sanctions against Russia.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk, who said he would address the UN Security Council on Thursday, blamed the crisis on Russia and accused Moscow of undermining the global security system by taking control of Crimea.

Read more.

UPDATE: 3/10/14 4:40 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here and our Twitter list for further developments.

UPDATE: 3/10/14 4:35 PM ET

Crimean militia leader blames US for Ukraine's unrest

GlobalPost contributor Nicholas Clayton reports:

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — Before the Crimean crisis started, Aleksey Borsuk was a freelance journalist.

Now, he is the leader of the People’s Liberation Movement (PLM), one of about a dozen volunteer “self-defense” forces that have formed in Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, purportedly protecting the region from outside attack.

“The founding ideology of our group is that the US stands behind all of the disorder in Kyiv, and it is seeking to submit the country to economic slavery,” he said.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE: 3/10/14 4:10 PM ET

Crimean 'soldiers' swear allegiance to pro-Russian PM

Agence France-Presse — Crimea's pro-Russian authorities sought to boost their claim to break from Ukraine Monday as volunteer soldiers swore an oath of allegiance in front of prime minister Sergei Aksyonov.

Clutching Kalashnikov rifles to their chests and wearing fur-lined military fatigues, the 36 volunteers took their turns pledging to "defend the people of Crimea."

Before a large crowd of assembled journalists, Aksyonov, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his jacket and protected by two bodyguards, thanked the volunteers for their "devotion in this difficult time."

"You are now part of the bulwark defending the people of Crimea," he said.

He told journalists 186 volunteers had so far joined the new Crimean "self-defense" units after pro-Moscow forces took power in the region and announced their intention to join with Russia, with a referendum planned for Sunday.

"We have no intention of going to war with anyone," Aksyonov said. "We simply want to freely decide our own destiny. That is why we created armed forces. After the referendum they can be integrated into the Russian army."

ITN Channel 4's Stuart Webb was there:

UPDATE: 3/10/14 3:40 PM ET

Referendum framed as choice between Russia and fascism

Yura Padalka, who is in Crimea, sends this report (translated by GlobalPost contributor Alex Padalka):

Billboards advertising the referendum (for Crimea to leave Ukraine and join Russia) in Sevastopol are framing the choice as one between Russia and fascism

A campaign for the March 16 referendum in Sevastopol paints the choice for the residents of the city as one between siding with Russia or siding with fascism. Tatyana Richtun, director of Media Center IPC Sevastopol, posted a Facebook photo of one billboard that reads "On March 16, we are choosing" above two side-by-side renderings of the Crimean peninsula, one painted with the Russian tri-color flag and the other in red with a swastika at its center.

Another billboard shows the Crimean peninsula being marched on by a formation of black silhouettes and the words "STOP. Fascism will not pass. EVERYONE TO THE REFERENDUM!"

Meanwhile, there are numerous reports of undesirable journalists being attacked, detained and harassed. Richtun posted on Facebook that an unknown man on a bicycle "began to launch raw eggs" at her yesterday in front of her apartment building.

Roman Bochkala, a journalist with the TV channel "Inter," reported two incidents from March 8 on his Facebook page: two film crews from the channel were severely beaten by the "so-called self-defense" groups near a military base in Sevastopol, while unknown men in Simferopol shot up a car with journalists inside.

Here are some of the billboards and ad flyers spotted in Sevastopol. It seems unlikely the Crimean authorities are behind the ads, given their unprofessional look:

Credit: Yura Padalka

Credit: Yura Padalka

Credit: Yura Padalka

And here is one spotted by Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk:

UPDATE: 3/10/14 1:25 PM ET

Ukrainian channels pulled?

Looks like Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk isn't able to access Ukrainian channels in Sevastopol (as we reported earlier):

UPDATE: 3/10/14 12:05 PM ET

US agencies helping Ukraine authorities investigate financial crimes

Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseny Yatsenuk, will be traveling to the United States to meet with US President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

Agence France-Presse has details on what may emerge from the meeting:

Wednesday's meeting will both boost the credibility of Yatsenyuk's untested government — not recognised by Russia — and provide Ukraine with a chance to iron out the details of crucial economic relief for its wheezing economy.

"This is a very important visit," Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya told Kyiv's 1+1 television late on Sunday.

"We hope that during these negotiations, we will find joint approaches to solving the situation around Crimea."

The White House said Obama will also discuss an economic support package that so far has seen Washington pledge a quick infusion of more than $1 billion and the European Union promise to issue 11 billion euros ($15 billion) over two years.

UPDATE: 3/10/14 11:55 AM ET

US agencies helping Ukraine authorities investigate financial crimes

The United States doesn't plan to recognize the results of any referendum held in Crimea, the US ambassador to Ukraine said on Monday. George Pyatt gave a press conference in Kyiv. Here are some highlights:

UPDATE: 3/10/14 11:35 AM ET

Yanukovych to give another presser

In case anyone was wondering what ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych thinks about the proceedings (hint: no one is wondering), he's going to tell us.

Yanukovych reportedly plans to hold another press conference from Russian soil, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, tomorrow:

UPDATE: 3/10/14 11:20 AM ET

Ukrainian soldiers' morale takes a hit

TIME's Simon Shuster reporting from Simferopol on the low morale of Ukrainian soldiers, following repeated 'provocations' from Russian forces:

“We are not allowed to use our weapons,” says Major Vladimir Yaremchuk, who was at the base [Friday] night. “But those guys came here armed to the teeth.”

For the Ukrainian troops based in Crimea, that provocation was just the latest in a string of humiliations. They had already been barricaded inside their bases for a week by Russian troops. Many of them had been forced to give up their weapons and had seen the chief of Ukraine’s navy defect to the Russian side.

UPDATE: 3/10/14 11:00 AM ET

Ukrainian channels replaced by Russian ones

Kyiv Post cited an Interfax-Ukraine correspondent saying that digital broadcasts of Ukrainian television had been shut off in Simferopol.

Kyiv Post said, "Russian television channels (Channel One, NTV, RTR-Planeta), as well as many entertainment Russian TV channels (STS, TNT, RenTV, TV-3), are being broadcast on the frequencies of Ukrainian television channels."

UPDATE: 3/10/14 10:45 AM ET

Russian troops opened fire

Reuters — Russian troops opened fire with automatic rifles during a takeover on Monday of a Ukrainian naval post in Crimea, Interfax news agency quoted a Ukrainian officer as saying.

The unnamed officer from the motor vehicle battalion of the Ukrainian navy said Russian troops broke in to the base near the inland town of Bakhchisaray some time after 2 p.m., took mobile phones from the Ukrainians and began trying to remove vehicles. None of the Ukrainian troops was hurt and the base commander was trying to negotiate an end to the action.

Further details were not immediately available. Russian forces who have taken control of a number of military installations across the Black Sea peninsula have not so far exchanged fire in anger with Ukrainian troops.

UPDATE: 3/10/14 10:00 AM ET

Russians consolidate their grip in Crimea

Reuters — Russian forces consolidated their hold on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula on Monday, taking over a military hospital and a missile base as officials geared up for a referendum on the region's future.

Interfax Ukraine news agency said pro-Russian militias and Russian troops had seized the hospital in Simferopol, the peninsula's main administrative city, and herded staff into a hall to "apparently meet the institution's new directors." It said 20 patients in the building were seriously ill.

In the port of Sevastopol, Russian soldiers disarmed servicemen at a Ukrainian army missile base, a Ukrainian military spokesman in Crimea said.

Vladislav Seleznyov told Fifth Channel television that about 200 soldiers aboard 14 trucks moved on the building at about 1.30 a.m and threatened to storm it if the Ukrainian soldiers failed to give up their weapons.

This is what Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk saw in Sevastopol:

UPDATE: 3/10/14 6:40 AM ET

Lawless eastern Ukraine

Reuters — Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Monday it was outraged by lawlessness in eastern Ukraine, blaming the far-right paramilitary movement Right Sector for "conniving" with the new government in Kyiv.

In its latest salvo in a propaganda war over Ukraine, in which the United States has issued a list of what it calls 10 false claims by President Vladimir Putin, Russia accused the West of being silent over violence and detentions taking place there against Russian compatriots.

The ministry said in a statement masked men had opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in the eastern city of Kharkiv on March 8, wounding some.

It also said seven Russian journalists had been detained in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk, suggesting the new leaders and their Western allies were not committed to media freedoms.

"The shamefaced silence of our Western partners, human rights organizations and foreign media is surprising. It raises the question — where is the notorious objectivity and commitment to democracy?" it said.

Kharkiv police are treating the Kharkiv incident as a minor one and say the only link to Right Sector came from an anonymous phone caller.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 8:23 PM ET

Rival rallies in Crimea 

The Guardian reports on two rallies with two very different visions for Crimea's future, a week before the referendum:

By the monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, they came with yellow-blue flags and chanted "Glory to Ukraine" and "Down with the Russian occupiers". Across town by the monument to Vladimir Lenin, the flags were red, white and blue, and the chanting was for union with Russia.

Here's the full article.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 7:15 PM ET

Imported Serbian fighters

Russia brings Serbian fighters, notorious for ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, to Crimea

UPDATE: 3/9/14 3:15 PM ET

Putin raps with Merkel and Cameron

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended breakaway moves by the pro-Russian leaders of Crimea on Sunday in a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin underlined in particular that the steps taken by Crimea's legitimate authorities are based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula's population," the Kremlin said.

"The Russian president also drew the attention of his interlocutors to the lack of any action by the present authorities in Kyiv to limit the rampant behavior of ultra-nationalists and radical forces in the capital and in many regions," it said in a written statement.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 2:40 PM ET

PM says Ukraine not giving a "centimeter" to Russia

Ukraine’s newly appointed prime minister vowed on Saturday to not give up “a centimeter” of land to Moscow, as dueling demonstrations turned violent in Crimea and Russian troops tighten their grip on the peninsula.

Read the rest at Mashable.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 2:15 PM ET

Ukrainians come out in throngs to celebrate famous poet

UPDATE: 3/9/14 1:44 PM ET

Odessa sings Ukrainian national anthem on Potemkin stairs

UPDATE: 3/9/14 11:37 AM ET

US won't recognize annexation of Crimea by Russia

Tony Blinken, US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program that Russia would come under increased international pressure as a result of the referendum in Crimea.

"First, if there is an annexation of Crimea, a referendum that moves Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, we won't recognize it, nor will most of the world," Blinken said.

"Second, the pressure that we've already exerted in coordination with our partners and allies will go up. The president made it very clear in announcing our sanctions, as did the Europeans the other day, that this is the first step and we've put in place a very flexible and very tough mechanism to increase the pressure, to increase the sanctions."

UPDATE: 3/9/14 11:31 AM ET

An emotional Mikhail Khodorkovsky addresses the Maidan

"I want you to know that there is another Russia."

UPDATE: 3/9/14 11:30 AM ET

Ukrainian activists beaten up by Russian thugs

Pro-Ukrainian activists have been beaten up by pro-Russian groups at a rally in Crimea's city of Sevastopol.

The activists were attacked with whips, a BBC reporter at the scene says, describing the scenes as very ugly.

It started peacefully. Ukrainians — many of them middle-aged women — waved flags and sang songs to celebrate the birth 200 years ago of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. They see him as the father of the Ukrainian language.

But by the end of the rally, pro-Russian demonstrators had turned up to gatecrash the celebrations. A line of young men and Cossacks with whips stood and glared at the rally menacingly — tension rose, and arguments broke out, both sides telling each other that Crimea is "our country."

Then it turned nasty, very nasty. The pro-Russians chased a group into a nearby car park. First, they set upon the driver of a white van, smashing his windscreen. He tried to drive through the mob to get away but crashed into another vehicle and was attacked again.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 11:23 AM ET

Ukrainian PM heads to Washington

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk will visit Washington this week for talks as tensions build over Russian forces' seizure of the Crimea, a White House official confirmed on Sunday.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 11:20 AM ET

Journalists still under threat

UPDATE: 3/9/14 11:00 AM ET

Mass anti-Putin rally in ethnically Russian Odessa

People are chanting "Odessa is Ukraine!" Odessa is in southern Ukraine.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 10:09 AM ET

Ukraine is not sending troops to Crimea

Interfax reports:

Ukrainian troops are performing training exercises in base but there are no plans to send the country's armed forces to the Crimea region, Acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh said Sunday.

Responding to media speculation about Ukrainian military movements after Russian forces took control of Crimea, Tenyukh said the only troop movements that might be seen would be from one base to another to take part in the training exercises.

UPDATE: 3/9/14 9:02 AM ET

Russia seizes another Ukrainian border post

Russian forces took control of a Ukrainian border guard post in western Crimea on Sunday, trapping about 30 personnel inside.

Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts in Crimea.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 5:10 PM ET

Obama confabs with world leaders

Obama made a series of phone calls on Saturday to world leaders about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the White House said.

He also held a conference call about the situation with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

"The leaders reiterated their grave concern over Russia's clear violation of international law and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," a White House summary of the calls said.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 4:58 PM ET

Reports of journalists beaten in Crimea

Concern was mounting Saturday over the safety of journalists in Crimea after reports that Ukrainian reporters were beaten by pro-Russian militants and an international television crew had its equipment seized.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 2:40 PM ET

Warning shots fired to keep monitors out of Crimea

A spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said no one was hurt when shots were fired to turn back its mission of more than 40 unarmed observers, who have been invited by Kyiv but do not have permission from Crimea's pro-Russian separatist regional authorities.

They had been turned back twice before, but this was the first time shots were fired.

Read the full Reuters article.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 2:31 PM ET

Ukrainian students share message "we are against war" in 18 languages

UPDATE: 3/8/14 11:21 AM ET

Pro-Russians rally in Ukraine

AFP reports:

Pro-Russian activists rallied in the eastern heartland of Ukraine's ousted leader on Saturday after Moscow threatened to cut off gas to its ex-Soviet neighbour following its tilt toward the West.

"Only Russia can help us so that our rights are not dragged through the mud!" said one protester named Natalia who works at a local beauty salon in the eastern city of Donetsk.

"There needs to be a referendum," she said.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 10:02 AM ET

Crimean PM says 'no one' can cancel referendum

On Thursday, Crimea's pro-Russia parliament voted to join Russia and set a referendum for March 16. Obama and the EU said the referendum plan is illegitimate and would violate Ukraine's constitution.

Ask Crimea if it cares.

Sergei Aksyonov, prime minister of Crimea, said the local government would go ahead with the public vote.

"The Supreme Council deputies of Crimea have univocally fulfilled the decision of the Crimeans, they voted for holding the referendum on March 16, and no one is able to cancel it," he was quoted by Itar-Tass state news agency as saying to Russian television.

He said the referendum was called at such short notice to "avoid provocations, as the situation in Ukraine is quite tense."

UPDATE: 3/8/14 9:52 AM ET

Russia may suspend arms inspection deal with US

The United States suspended military cooperation with Russia on Monday in an effort to punish Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine. Who thought Russia would take that lying down?

"The ungrounded threats to Russia from the US and NATO over its Ukrainian policy are regarded by us as an unfriendly gesture and allow us to announce force majeure," an unnamed source was quoted as saying by the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

"We are ready to take this step as a response to Pentagon's statements about suspension of engagements between armies of Russia and the US," the source said.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 9:25 AM ET

Poland evacuates consulate in Crimea

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Saturday Poland had evacuated its consulate in Ukraine's Crimea due to disturbances by Russian forces.

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

Ukrainian soldiers celebrate Int'l Women's Day

UPDATE: 3/8/14 8:25 AM ET

Tensions on the rise after overnight confrontations

Reuters reports:

Russian troops drove a truck into a missile defense post in Sevastopol, the home of both their Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian navy, and took control of it overnight. A Reuters reporting team at the scene said no-one was hurt.

Ukraine's border service said Russian troops had also seized a border guard outpost in the east of the peninsula overnight, kicking the Ukrainian officers and their families out of their apartments in the middle of the night.

"The situation is changed. Tensions are much higher now. You have to go. You can't film here," said a Russian soldier carrying a heavy machine gun, his face covered except for his eyes.

UPDATE: 3/8/14 8:00 AM ET

Previous live blog

For news about Crimea from the week, check out our previous live blog.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140307/crimea-crisis-live-blog