Ukraine’s parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to establish a National Guard of 60,000 military personnel in order to boost the country’s defenses.
The vote happened ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on whether it should leave Ukraine to reunite with Russia, reports the BBC.
Russian forces occupied Crimea in late February after violent demonstrations led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and the installation of a new, interim parliament in Ukraine.
Both Europe and the U.S. have threatened sanctions and other actions if Russia does not pull its troops out of the Crimea. President Barack Obama welcomed interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the White House on Tuesday, and said the U.S. would “stand with Ukraine.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday that “if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine.”