Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree today recognizing Crimea as a "sovereign and independent country," hours after the strategic Black Sea peninsula declared it had broken from Ukraine and would merge with Russia following a weekend referendum. The moves triggered the toughest Western sanctions against Russia since the Cold War—with Washington and the European Union retaliating with asset freezes and travel bans and President Barack Obama vowing to "increase the cost" if the Kremlin does not back down.
Meanwhile, Russian troops are massed near the border with Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine's acting president raised tensions on the ground by calling for the mobilization of some 40,000 military reservists and national guard members. Ukraine isn't the only country worrying, either: Romania's president says Russia has created a chain of conflicts around the Black Sea to further Putin's goal of rebuilding the former Soviet Union along its former border with the West, the AP reports. "If you look at the map, you will see this chain of frozen conflicts" around the Black Sea "that can be set off at any time," said President Traian Basescu, referring to conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Click for more on that.