By Mario Trujillo - 03/16/14 11:20 AM EDT
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Russia's incursion into an area outside Crimea Saturday was likely in preparation for a successful secession vote later Sunday.
"In order to protect the outcome of that vote, I think they needed this strategic hold," Rogers said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"This is where natural gas can be delivered in that region and I think the Russians believe that was very, very important to make sure that wasn't a lever that the Kiev government could use against the Crimean peninsula."
He said the move means that Russia believes the vote in Crimea to gain independence from Ukraine and join Russia will be successful.
“This is that next logical step to make sure that they cannot interfere with the successful delivery of energy to the Crimean Peninsula," he said.
Rogers said Russian President Vladimir Putin has the advantage over the United States. Putin has also been emboldened by rising popularity in Russia amid the incursion, he said.
"Clearly he has set the table to his advantage in any negotiation going forward," he said. "Clearly that has happened. And the fact that we have had a little bit of fraying in our European relationships diplomatically has caused us some real difficulties."
The Ukraine foreign ministry on Saturday claimed Russian forces entered the village of Strilkove, just east of the tip of Crimea and six miles north of the border, with four helicopter gunships and three armored vehicles. It called for the troops to immediately withdraw.
The move appeared to be the first action by Russian forces outside Crimea — a region populated by ethnic Russians that is holding the referendum.