Leaders of the G7 group of advanced economies told Russia on March 12 it risked facing international action unless it stops its moves toward the "annexation" of Crimea, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepared to host Ukraine's prime minister at the White House.
A statement from the seven nations released from the White House says a referendum on joining Russia, scheduled for this weekend, "would have no legal effect" and they won't recognize its results. It said Russia must "cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea."
The statement from the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States -- along with the European Council and the European Commission -- said "further action, individually and collectively," will be taken against Russia if it proceeds with what it called the "annexation" of Crimea.
The statement did not elaborate on the nature of the action Russia was facing. But earlier on March 12, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that such action would have "far-reaching" effects.
"If meaningful negotiations do not begin within the next days and produce results within a limited time frame, this will trigger additional measures," Barroso said. "And a further deterioration of the situation could lead to far-reaching consequences, which, I sincerely hope, can be avoided."
Barroso also said the 28-nation bloc will discuss next week an additional $1.39 billion in assistance for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on March 12 that the political part of a key agreement between Ukraine and the European Union could be signed as early as next week.
Speaking after talks in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Merkel said the accord would be signed "probably at the next EU summit" scheduled for March 20-21.
Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's sudden decision not to sign the agreement last November sparked mass protests that led to the toppling of his government and the subsequent Russian intervention in Crimea.
On March 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he will travel to London to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on March 14 to try to ease tensions over Ukraine.
Kerry also held a meeting Wednesday with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ahead of Yatsenyuk's high profile talks with President Barack Obama later on March 12.
In a strong show of support, Obama will greet Yatsenyuk in the Oval Office -- a symbol of U.S. power -- like any other foreign leader. Russia does not recognize the legitimacy of Ukraine's new government.
The White House said Obama would also discuss an economic support package for Ukraine that has already seen Washington pledge more than $1 billion.
Yatsenyuk is also due to hold a meeting with Kerry on the same day.
Earlier on March 12, Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia has refused "all contacts at the foreign ministry and top government level" with Ukraine and is "rejecting a diplomatic solution to the conflict."
Turchynov, however, told the French news agency AFP that heavily outnumbered Ukraine would not go to war with Russia over Crimea, as it would leave the country's eastern border exposed and unprotected.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP