A supposed Russian deadline for Ukrainian troops to get out of the Crimea region passed today without incident, though what appear to be the first shots of the crisis were fired at an air base in the region this morning, reports the AP. Pro-Russian troops who have seized the Ukrainian base fired warning shots when they were approached by hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers demanding their jobs back. They said they would shoot the Ukrainians if they got any closer. In other developments:
- With John Kerry on his way to Kiev, Vladimir Putin has ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops on exercises near the border to return to their bases, easing fears that Russia plans to invade the eastern part of Ukraine after tightening its grip on Crimea, Reuters reports.
- Russia's United Nations envoy claims troops were sent across the border to protect civilians at the request of ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich, reports the BBC. Western diplomats say Russia's arguments in favor of intervention are groundless, though the LA Times notes that CIA director John Brennan told officials yesterday that a 1997 treaty allows up to 25,000 Russian troops in the Crimea region, meaning Moscow may not consider the troop movement an invasion. Some 16,000 Russian troops are now believed to be in the region.
- The Obama administration has suspended military ties with Russia and US officials say the next move will be to freeze the assets of top Russian officials. European leaders, however, are resisting calls for tough economic sanctions if the Russians don't withdraw. "The biggest argument for severe economic sanctions not being imposed is that the European countries don’t have much of an alternative to Russian energy supplies," an analyst tells the New York Times.
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