1. Russia Softens Rhetoric
The tensions between Russia and Ukraine softened slightly this morning after Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled back troops that had been conducting military exercises near the Ukraine border. He said the exercises were not in preparation for going into Ukraine.
But the Russian president also said the new Ukrainian government in the capital Kiev was not legitimate and accused the West of encouraging an "unconstitutional coup." Putin said that Moscow reserves the right to use its military to protect Russians in Ukraine but hopes it won't need to.
Russian soldiers and pro-Russian militias went into Ukraine's Crimea region over the weekend and took over military bases and airports, putting the world on edge over the possibility of violent territorial disputes. Putin said today that he hopes he will not have to use further force in other parts of Ukraine, leaving open the possibility of more conflict to come.
2. The U.S. Offers $1 Billion Aid Package to Ukraine
Secretary of State John Kerry flew to the capitol of Ukraine today and offered the country $1 billion in aid. The move is a signal to Russia and the world that the U.S. is on the side of Ukraine's new pro-Western government.
The interim government emerged after protesters in Ukraine's capital last month called for nationwide elections and limiting the powers of then-president Viktor Yanukovich. Parliament agreed, and then a few days later, Yanukovich left the country and fled to Moscow, seeking Russian protection. The Ukraine parliament then impeached Yanukovich. Putin views Yanukovich as the rightful president, and the interim government as illegitimate and sent troops in Ukraine's autonomous region of Crimea.
3. The Struggle Over Crimea Is Partly About East-West Relationships
The political upheaval in Ukraine in recent weeks was partly about whether Ukraine would become more aligned with the European Union and the West or remain closely aligned with Russia.
The protesters in Ukraine's capital, along with about 12 percent of the population in Crimea that identify themselves as ethnic Tatars, wanted the government to become more pro-European. They succeeded in setting new national elections for May.
Putin is arguing that a group of anti-Russian extremists now in power in Ukraine were a threat to Russian-speaking people who live in Crimea, justifying Russia's invasion of Crimea.
4. President Obama, European Leaders, and the United Nations Are Warning Russia to Back Off
President Obama has warned Russia "there will be costs" for any military intervention in Ukraine, and Secretary of State John Kerry today said "Our partners will have absolutely no choice but to join us to continue to expand upon steps we have taken in recent days in order to isolate Russia politically, diplomatically and economically."
Today a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State said economic sanctions are "likely" against Russia.
European Union foreign ministers met Monday to work on a response to Russia's military moves, one that could include economic sanctions. In addition, the United States is laying groundwork to kick Russia out of the G-8 due to the military action in Crimea.
The United Nations is sending a team to investigate the situation in Crimea this week, while NATO meeting Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the situation a "breach of international law" and called on Russia to de-escalate the situation.
Countries including the U.S. have suspended their planning for the G-8 conference in response to Russia's behavior.
5. Russia Has 6,000 Troops in Crimea, Fired Warning Shots This Morning