MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has chaired a meeting of his Security Council focusing on the crisis in Ukraine.
Putin said at the start of Thursday's meeting that he wants to discuss ties with Russia's "friends and partners in Ukraine," as well as Russia's relations with the United States and the European Union in connection with the developments in Ukraine.
Russian forces have seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and Russia's parliament has given Putin permission to use the Russian military to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Crimea plans to hold a referendum on Sunday that will ask residents if they want the territory to become part of Russia. Ukraine's government and Western nations have denounced the vote as illegitimate and warned Russia against trying to annex the strategic peninsula.