Kiev, Ukraine – Polls opened Sunday morning in a referendum on the peninsula of Crimea, in which voters are to voice their wish to either join Russia or become an effectively independent state connected to Ukraine. The vote will have a strong determination on its future and a strong influence on the future of international relations in the region and beyond. Voters are choosing between two alternatives: Join Russia or or become effectively an independent state connected to Ukraine. The pressure is on from Russia, with pro-Russian troops firmly in control of the peninsula with an ethnic Russian majority.
Ukraine and the West insist they belong to Moscow, but the Kremlin vehemently denies it. Russia ratcheted up its its diplomatic and military muscle Saturday. About 60 Russian troops in six helicopters and three armored vehicles reportedly crossed into Ukraine’s Kherson region and were in the town of Strilkove, on a strip of land just northeast of Crimea. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said the Russian troops were on the ground and the Ukrainian guards had taken defensive positions. The region is key to neighboring Crimea, because it gets electricity, freshwater and natural gas from there. The Russians said they were in Kherson to prevent a possible terrorist attack on oil assets in the area, according to the Ukrainian border guards.