Ukraine Boosts Defenses for Possible Russian Invasion

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Once again, thousands of Russian troops are holding military exercises near the Ukrainian border.

At least 10,000 soldiers, along with artillery batteries, tank forces, and assault helicopters are active in the region.

Meanwhile in eastern Ukraine, violent clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and supporters of the Ukrainian government left at least one person dead Thursday. In Donetsk, 17 people were injured after rival groups clashed in the central square.

What is Russia's target beyond Crimea? CBN's George Thomas, who is just back from Ukraine, offered more insight on CBN Newswatch, March 14, following this report.

U.S. and European leaders are cautioning Russia not to escalate the situation in Crimea. All this is happening as the fate of the Ukrainian Peninsula of Crimea is still unclear.

On Sunday, voters will decide whether to remain part of Ukraine or to split and join Russia. The West has said it won't recognize the vote, while Russia vows to protect its citizens.

From the corridors of Washington to Berlin to Kiev, leaders are voicing their support for the Ukrainian people.

"We have been very firm in saying that we will stand with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," President Barack Obama said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Ukraine's "territorial integrity" is off limits.

"One thing has to be absolutely clear: the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not up for discussion," Merkel said.

And Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk vowed not to surrender to Russia.

"We fight for our sovereignty and we will never surrender," he said from Kiev.

Western leaders are warning Russia to change course in Crimea or face consequences.

"We call on Russia to cease all preparations for the annexation of Crimea," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

But the tough words are having little impact as Russia's grip tightens by the day. Some 20,000 forces have now fanned out across the Crimean peninsula ahead of Sunday's referendum vote.

The idea of holding a constitutional referendum on whether Crimea should be part of Russia or Ukraine is extremely controversial. CBN News senior correspondent George Thomas said most folks on the streets of Kiev are dead set against it.

"In all likelihood, they will vote to join Russia, but it will be an illegal vote," a Ukrainian man told CBN News.

"There is strength in unity, but this issue is dividing us and this is not good," a woman said.

Meanwhile, the United States has placed visa bans and frozen financial assets of Russian officials responsible for violating Ukraine's sovereignty, and more potential sanctions could be on the way.

"It can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned.

Russia's latest round of military exercises along Ukraine's eastern border, involving thousands of troops, is adding to the tension. This comes as Kiev's new government votes on forming a 60,000-man military force to boost its country's defenses against a potential full-scale Russian invasion. 

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