Ukraine's Crimea Raises Tension by Setting Secession VoteCrimea Raises Stakes With Vote
The Moscow-backed government of Crimea set a referendum in 10 days to ratify its decision to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, dramatically escalating tension as the West tries to negotiate a withdrawal of Russian troops from the area.
The step Thursday came as Western diplomats were huddled in Rome with their Russian counterparts to end the political standoff, and just two days after President Vladimir Putin said Russia wasn't interested in annexing Crimea.
U.S. and European leaders said such a referendum would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law.
"Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine," President Barack Obama said at the White House. "In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders."
A Russian move to absorb Crimea against the will of Ukraine's national government in Kiev would mark the first time since World War II that such a maneuver had been attempted in Europe.