One day before Crimea holds a referendum on leaving Ukraine, Russia has vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to affirm Ukraine's sovereignty and national borders. The measure would have declared the referendum in Crimea invalid.
Russia, a permanent member of the council, was the sole vote against the resolution, which had the support of 13 countries attending Saturday's emergency meeting. China abstained from voting.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports for our Newscast unit:
"U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power says the resolution was aimed at finding a peaceful solution and upholding U.N. principles on the sovereignty of its member states.
"Russia's ambassador says the people of Crimea should be able to determine their own future because, he says, a coup in Kiev left a power vacuum. Ambassador Power says Russia's position is at odds with international and Ukrainian law, and with the facts."
Update at 3 p.m. ET: Russia Says Gas Line Is 'Under Protection'
Citing an attempted "act of sabotage" on a gas pipeline that serves Crimea, Russia says military personnel have put a gas distribution station in the area under their protection, confirming a development we mentioned in an earlier update.
"The persons who tried to damage the equipment — up to 40 people, according to preliminary information — and who identified themselves as Ukrainian Border Guard Service officials left the station in a hurry," Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said, according to the state-run Itar-Tass media.
The move was made, Aksyonov said, "to ensure energy security of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and uninterrupted operation of crucial facilities."
Crimea is preparing for the possibility that Ukraine could cut its gas, water, and electricity, the prime minister said. He added that the peninsula has 900 diesel generators and enough water for more than a month.
Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: Pro-Russian Force Reportedly Enters Ukraine
"Ukraine's ambassador to the U.N. just said that he got a call 40 minutes ago and heard that Russian troops entered the mainland on the south from Crimea," NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us. "And he appealed to the Security Council to find means and measures to do everything to 'stop the aggressor.' "
The Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, did not say how his country had responded to the situation. His account seems to correspond with an earlier report from Reuters, which cited Ukraine's defense ministry saying it had "scrambled aircraft and paratroops to confront a Russian encroachment beyond Crimea's regional boundary."
The AP notes that an incursion in Strelkova would be the first by pro-Russian forces outside of Crimea. Citing a border guard official, the news agency says "a contingent of about 120 troops" took over a natural gas distribution station in Strelkova, about 6 miles outside of the Crimean Peninsula.
Reuters adds, "Moscow leases the Crimean port of Sevastopol from Kiev to station its Black Sea Fleet. Under the deal it can station up to 25,000 troops there but [their] movements are restricted onshore."
Our original post continues:
In Moscow, demonstrators held a large protest against Russia's handling of the crisis Saturday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart have not reached a breakthrough over the situation.
Today's protest in Moscow reportedly drew tens of thousands of people who criticized the Kremlin. From the BBC:
"Holding Russian and Ukrainian flags, they shouted: 'The occupation of Crimea is Russia's disgrace.' A smaller pro-Moscow rally was being held elsewhere."
In Crimea, Sunday's referendum offers voters two choices: joining with Russia or becoming more independent from Ukraine. The ballot's wording means "they cannot vote for the status quo," as The New York Times has reported.
Debate over the region's fate has heightened tensions between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian activists. Two people were killed in a clash that began Friday night in the eastern city of Kharkiv, the central government says.
A group of U.S. senators is currently in Kiev, where they've met with Ukraine's leaders and visited a shrine to those killed in demonstrations in the city's Independence Square.
McCain "believes Crimea may not be the end of Russian president Vladimir Putin's territorial ambitions," reports NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's in Kiev.
"Now I'm not predicting World War III," McCain said, "but I am predicting further encroachment by Vladimir Putin — for example the Baltics, for example Moldova."
Here are more highlights of the day's news about Crimea:
"Ukraine is a brotherly nation and we will not allow them (the government) to march us into a fratricidal war," activist Ilya Yashin said at today's rally in Moscow, according to Agence France-Presse.
The news agency says placards compared Russia's approach to Crimea "with the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland as Europe rushed headlong into World War II."
In Kiev, Ukraine's parliament voted to dissolve Crimea's legislature. From Radio Free Europe:
"An overwhelming majority of 278 lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, with one abstention. Seventeen legislators did not take part in the vote.
"Kyiv's Verkhovna Rada debated the issue on March 15 in a special session presided over by acting President and parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov."