Pro-Russian supporters take part in a rally in the center of Donetsk on March 9, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY
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Germany's Angela Merkel delivered a rebuke to President Vladimir Putin on Sunday, telling him that a planned Moscow-backed referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia was illegal and violated Ukraine's constitution.Putin defended breakaway moves by pro-Russian leaders in Crimea, where Russian forces tightened their grip on the Ukrainian region by seizing another border post. The operation to seize Crimea began within days of Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich's flight from the country last month.One of Obama's top national security officials said the United States would not recognise the annexation of Crimea by Russia if residents vote to leave Ukraine in a referendum next week.Putin declared a week ago that Russia had the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, and his parliament has voted to change the law to make it easier to annex territory inhabited by Russian speakers.The spokesman, Oleh Slobodyan, said Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts across Crimea, a former Russian territory that is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and has an ethnic Russian majority.Ukraine's military, with 130,000 troops, would be no match for Russia's.
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