Crimea's parliament has moved up the date for a public referendum on whether the region should formally secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
The move by the Russian-backed Crimean regional government comes just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was not going to annex Crimea. And it sharply increases tensions in the region, as well as in Rome and Brussels, where U.S., European, Russian and Ukrainian diplomats are meeting today to find a way out of the crisis.
Ukraine's prime minister is rejecting the vote for a referendum as "illegitimate." A European official said that the result of such a vote would not be recognized by Western governments. And shortly after the move by the Crimean parliament, President Obama signed an executive order to impose sanctions on individuals and groups who are "undermining" democracy in Ukraine.
That unilateral move by the White House comes as European nations remain divided over next steps. British Prime Minister David Cameron, arriving in Brussels for an emergency meeting of the E.U. said, "we need to send a very clear message to the Russian government that what has happened is unacceptable and should have consequences.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a different line, saying that the imposition of sanctions, "depends also on how the diplomatic process progresses."
Meanwhile, on the ground in Crimea, thousands of heavily armed men — widely believed to be Russian soldiers — remain in charge of key locations, as diplomats talk about negotiating a withdrawal of Russian or Russian backed forces from the region.
Harvard Kennedy School professor Nicholas Burns, who was the U.S. ambassador to NATO and and served on the National Security Council under Presidents Bush and Clinton, joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to discuss the latest developments.
This segment aired on March 6, 2014.