Russian Troops Stage Drills On Ukraine Border, And Time's A-Ticking Before Crimea Votes On Joining The Federation

Thousands of Russian troops staged military exercises on Ukraine's border Thursday, raising concerns about a possible invasion. Tensions continue to rise as international officials scramble to reach a agreement before a popular vote in Crimea on March 16 decides whether the peninsula will join the Federation. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a last-ditch attempt to work things out.

As armored vehicles and forces gathered and an additional 10,000 Russian soldiers staged drills near the nation's border, Ukraine's interim leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk still insists there's a chance for peace.

Unfortunately, Russia seems to be doing everything but backing down. President Vladimir Putin is singing the same song, insisting the crisis in Ukraine was caused by internal factors, not by his country, according to CNN. Still, there's no denying the country's current involvement and the fact that military drills are amping up. The exercises include rocket launches, anti-tank cannons and assault helicopters.

Meanwhile, protests and clashes continue throughout Ukraine. The latest violence killed two pro-Ukraine protesters and injured dozens in the eastern city of Donetsk after pro-Russia demonstrators attacked the group with eggs, stun grenades, and firecrackers. The victims were participating in a "For a United Ukraine" rally.

Primary focus has still been on the autonomous region of Crimea, where majority of the population culturally identifies with Russia and speaks the language. Earlier in the month, Crimean lawmakers voted to ask to leave Ukraine and become a part of Russia, deciding on a referendum to enforce their resolve.

Germany and the United States have made last-minute attempts to put the pressure on Russia before the Crimean public vote on Sunday, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatening "massive" political and economic consequences to the country and Secretary of State John Kerry warning of "very serious" sanctions. Ukraine, the United States and the European Union have called the vote illegal.

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Putin remains firm in his stance that the Federation has a duty to protect Crimean residents if they want to be a part of Russia. Thousands of troops are still stationed on the peninsula, but Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov says the additional massing on the country's eastern border signals "they are ready to intervene in Ukraine at any time." Ukraine's armed forces are also on full alert, though he says they are still seeking opportunities to solve the problem peacefully.