1. Obama Announces Sanctions, Warns Against Violating International Law
President Obama warned Russia and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine today that any actions taken in Ukraine must be approved by the Ukrainian government or else constitute a breach of international law.
Obama announced sanctions against individuals in Russia whom he said were responsible for the current conflict in Ukraine's Crimea region, where Russian soldiers and pro-Russian militias have taken over military bases, airports, and government buildings. This morning, leaders in Crimea announced their intention to hold a referendum next week over whether Crimea should join Russia.
"Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine. In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders," Obama said in a hastily announced statement in the White House Briefing Room.
Obama said that the U.S. and its European allies were prepared to act further to punish Russia for its actions, but did not detail what those actions would be.
2. Crimea Will Vote On Whether to Become Part of Russia
The region of Crimea, which is currently a part of Ukraine, will hold a referendum vote next week on whether to become part of Russia. About 60 percent of Crimea residents are ethnic Russians. The vote was set after Crimea's legislators voted to become part of Russia.
The vote follows a week of unrest in the region in which Russian military forces and pro-Russian militias stormed Ukrainian government buildings and military bases or blockaded the bases. Russia said it was protecting ethnic Russians in the region from swelling anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine.
Last month, pro-European protesters in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, succeeded in installing a pro-European interim President and removing the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich, from power.
3. Russia and U.S. in Tense Standoff Over Crimea and Ukraine
Despite high hopes for a diplomatic meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday in Paris, the pair have made little progress on easing tensions between the two powerhouse countries over the conflict in Ukraine. They were to meet again today in Rome.
The duo talked for 40 minutes by themselves, with Kerry urging Lavrov to speak directly to Ukrainian representatives about the situation and to allow international investigators into Crimea to see the situation first hand.
The U.S. is passing sanctions against individuals in Russia in response to Russia's military actions, and Western leaders are refusing to work with Russia at the upcoming G-8 conference. The U.S. military also readied 10 fighter jets in Lithuania to help patrol and reassured U.S. allies in the Baltic region that share a border with Russia.
4. Russian Troops Turn International Observers Away from Crimea
Pro-Russian troops that have gained control strategic military bases and government buildings in Crimea turned away international observers from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The observers were trying to gain first-hand accounts of what was happening in Crimea, but were turned away under threat of violence.
Pro-Russian forces sank a boat about midnight outside a Ukrainian port, bottling up ships of the Ukrainian navy.