Good morning, and happy Thursday. Here are six of the top stories we are following this morning at NBC News:
1. Crimean parliament moves to join Russia
The local government’s decision to side with Moscow is further escalating the crisis over the region, which has effectively been seized by Russian forces — much to Russia's denial. A referendum on March 16 will also ask residents — the majority of whom speak and describe themselves as Russian — whether they want to stay with Ukraine or join Russia. Read more in NEWS.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny its troops are on the ground in Crimea, despite strong evidence to the contrary. Read more in NEWS.
2. TV anchor quits over Putin ‘whitewash’
Liz Wahl, an anchor for Russia Today's U.S. bureau, resigned live on air after saying her network is “funded by (a) Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin.” She later told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell that RT’s mission was “to try to make America look like the bad guy and make excuses for Putin.” RT fired back that it was a “self-promotional stunt.” Read more in NEWS.
3. Man charged in death of country musician’s cousin
Zachary Rye Adams, 29, was held without bond in the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Tennessee nursing student Holly Bobo, who vanished in 2011. Bobo is the cousin of Whitney Duncan, a country singer in Nashville and former contestant on “Survivor.” Read more in NEWS.
4. Poll: Pope Francis may be motivating more Catholics to pray
A new Pew Research Center poll says that 40 percent of American Catholics say they are praying more often than they did a year ago. One possibility could be how Francis, who was elected in March 2013, has invigorated the church. The poll, however, found that there hasn’t necessarily been an increase in the number of people who identify as Catholics. Read more in NEWS.
5. Social media sites don’t like illegal gun sales
Facebook and Instagram said they are committed to cracking down on guns illegally sold on their sites. Facebook, for instance, said it will pull posts from users who appear to be selling firearms across state lines without a licensed dealer or a background check. Read more in TECH & SCIENCE.
6. Army general to plead guilty to lesser charges
U.S. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is set to enter the plea this morning before opening statements for his court martial. While Sinclair will admit to guilt on charges stemming from improper relationships, he will maintain his innocence on the sexual assault claims by a junior female office, his lawyers said. Read more in NEWS.
… What’s trending today?
A picture of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron speaking on the phone to President Barack Obama about Ukraine has inspired comedians and celebrities to “join the call” on Twitter.