The Crimean parliament on Tuesday said it would declare itself independent if its residents approve a referendum to split off from Ukraine - an ambiguous legal maneuver that could offer a way of de-escalating the standoff between Russia and the West.
The referendum called for Sunday proposes seceding from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. But the Crimean parliament's declaration could put the bid to join Russia on hold, depending on the outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin's bargaining with the West.
The dispute between Moscow and the West over Crimea is one of the most severe geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Russian forces have secured control over the peninsula, but Western nations have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and strongly warned Russia against trying to annex Crimea.
Crimea, where Russia maintains its Black Sea Fleet base, became the epicenter of tensions in Ukraine after President Viktor Yanukovych fled last month in the wake of months of protests and outbreaks of bloodshed.
The Crimean parliament's move is "a message to the West that there is no talk about Russia incorporating Crimea," said Kiev-based political analyst Vadim Karasyov. "It's a tranquilizer for everybody - for the West and for many in Ukraine who are panicking."
The Christian Science Monitor's Moscow correspondent, Fred Weir, discusses these developments with Here & Now's Robin Young.
- Fred Weir, Moscow correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor.
This segment aired on March 11, 2014.