Why would Vladimir Putin want Crimea?
Crimea would be a dazzling acquisition for Putin and help cement his authority with a Russian citizenry that has in recent years shown signs of restiveness and still resents the loss of the sprawling empire Moscow ruled in Soviet times. The peninsula was once Russia's imperial crown jewel, a lush land seized by Catherine the Great in the 18th century that evokes Russia's claim to greatness as a world power. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, and the rest of Crimea detached from the Russian Federation and transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. At the time, both Russia and Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union.
Are there risks from harsher sanctions against Russia?
EU economic sanctions against Russia could prove painful for Europe since Russia could hit back by turning off the taps to natural gas that is an urgent need for many European countries, including regional giant Germany. The fallout for Europe from any action targeting influential Russian oligarchs or corporations would also be great. Russian investors hold assets worth billions in European banks, particularly in Britain. Russia, the EU's third biggest trading partner, bought $170 billion in European machinery, cars and other exports in 2012.
What's the situation in Crimea?
Crimea's new leader has said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the peninsula in the Black Sea and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered. At the Ukrainian naval base in Novo-Ozerne, the inlet leading to the Black Sea was blocked Thursday by a partially submerged Russian naval vessel, preventing two Ukrainian ships from leaving port. Ukrainian sailors said the Russians had blown up the decommissioned vessel overnight.
Associated Press, New York Times