With the referendum in Crimea set to be this Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry has given Russia a deadline of Monday saying “If there is no sign [from Russia] of any capacity to respond to this issue … there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday.” What those steps will be precisely remains unclear only that “we have contingencies – we are talking through various options that may or may not be available.” So there’s that. When in doubt make vague threats?

Meanwhile Russia seems less than concerned about Secretary Kerry’s posturing and has sent additional forces into Crimea as well as flexing its muscles by performing military exercises on the Russian side of the Ukraine border.

A Russian warship unloaded trucks, troops and at least one armoured personnel carrier at a bay near Sevastopol in Crimea on Friday morning, as Moscow continued to build up its forces on the Ukrainian peninsula…

Russia has started military exercises near the Ukrainian border, it has announced, in what is likely to be seen as a show of force in the standoff with Kiev and the west over Crimea. The defence ministry confirmed on Thursday that exercises involving 8,500 artillery men had begun in the southern military district near the border. Pictures appeared on social media earlier showing military vehicles on the move in the area.

This rise in tensions may dwindle after the vote with the only recourse the US and EU having is their ability to refuse to recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation. The prospect of Russia kicking out Crimea after it has incorporated it into their country seems slim.

The fate of the rest of Ukraine is still very much in the balance. Russia has refused to recognize the government that came to power through violently overthrowing President Yanukovych. And according to reports, the Obama Administration has declined to arm Ukraine’s interim government, for now.

As Russia turned up the heat, the United States was trying to tamp it down. An American official said that the Obama administration had deferred a request from Ukraine’s interim government for military assistance like arms and ammunition, although the administration was “still considering” it.

Which gives even more evidence that the interim government is favored by the US and this conflict is less about international law than it is about who has influence in Ukraine. Crimea gives Russia an even stronger foothold to pursue influence and restrain the US/EU backed government that came to power overthrowing the Russian backed government.

We will see what happens Monday.