As citizens of the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine gear up to vote on a proposed secession referendum at the end of this week, the Obama administration said it will host Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House this Wednesday, adding to the rising tensions between Russia, the new Ukrainian government, the U.S. and the EU.
U.S. ambassador in Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt said the U.S. will not recognize next Sunday's referendum in Crimea, warning that stronger sanctions against Russia would follow if it proceeds.
Meanwhile pro-Russian forces wearing military uniforms were on the move again, taking control of a military airport in Crimea near the village of Saki, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman on the peninsula said.
And pro-Russian forces took over a Ukrainian border post on the western edge of Crimea at 6 a.m. (0400) GMT, Oleh Slobodyan a border guard spokesman told Reuters. Russian forces now control 11 border guard posts across Crimea, according to Slobodyan.
Ukrainian troops, whose numbers are far outweighed by Russian forces, began training exercises in their bases, but Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said there are no plans to send them into Crimea.
On Sunday, David Cameron and Angela Merkel warned that any attempt by Russia to further legitimize Sunday's referendum would result in stronger sanctions.
On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry rebutted, condemning the "lawlessness" of pro-EU actors in eastern Ukraine over what he said was violence and detentions taking place against Russian citizens.
Tens of thousands of protesters took part in rival pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian rallies in Ukraine on Sunday, with occasional clashes occurring throughout the day.
Speaking at a rally in Kiev, newly installed Ukraine Prime Minister Yatsenyuk used strong language denouncing Russia's actions in Crimea, saying they will not give a "single centimeter" of Ukrainian land to Russia.
Speaking with Democracy Now! on Monday, journalist on the ground in Crimea Nicholas Clayton said the referendum leaves "basically no possibility for Crimea to remain a part of Ukraine."
The two questions on the referendum are, one, "Do you support Crimea becoming a part of the Russian Federation?" and two, "Do support the restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution?" And the last form of that constitution, which was later abandoned after negotiations with Kiev, but in that last—in its last form, it described Crimea as an independent country, and so, therefore, if that constitution were to be restored, it’s likely that the Crimean government would interpret that as meaning that Crimea would then be an independent country, one that might then later be absorbed by Russia, or it could become a—some sort of semi-independent protectorate, similar to what has occurred with Georgia’s breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that continue on recognized as independent by Russia and only a few of Russia’s allies, but are basically dependent upon Russian aid and support.