Russia and Ukraine have had the first diplomatic contacts since the start of the Crimean crisis, while the European Union has said it will sign a political agreement with Kyiv "immediately."
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin held a meeting in Moscow with Ukrainian Ambassador in Moscow Volodymyr Yelchenko.
It said the diplomats "discussed Russian-Ukrainian relations in a frank atmosphere," without giving any details.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a telephone conversation on March 8 that annexing Crimea "would close any available space for diplomacy."
Earlier, Lavrov said Russia is open to having an "honest, equal" dialogue with foreign states on the crisis in Ukraine but insisted that Moscow bore no responsibility for the situation.
Also earlier on March 8, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the European Union had decided to sign "immediately" the political chapters of an Association Agreement with Ukraine, amid heightened tensions over Russia's involvement in Crimea.
Barroso, speaking at a summit of European regions and cities in Athens on March 8, said the EU has a "debt, a duty of solidarity" with Ukraine.
In a reference to an official crackdown against the so-called Euromaidan protests and related unrest sparked by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to turn his back on an Association Agreement in November, Barroso said that "more than 100 people [have] already died for these values in Europe, in Ukraine [wanting] to follow the values of Europe."
"I think we have debt, a duty of solidarity with that country, and we will work to have them as close as possible to us," Barroso said. "We have decided also, immediately to sign -- because it was requested by the prime minister of Ukraine [Arseniy Yatsenyuk] -- sign the political chapters of the Association Agreement. Which means that Ukraine will seal its association with the European Union. That's I think we can do and should do now, but of course we'll do it in a way, we are trying to do it in a way that is peaceful."
The Yanukovych government's decision to suspend signing the agreement sparked massive protests that led to the Yanukovych regime's departure to Russian exile and the occupation of Ukraine's Crimea by pro-Russian forces.
The head of the EU executive body added that Ukraine's association with the 28-nation bloc must be done "in a way that is peaceful."
Barroso's statement came as a group of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) tried unsuccessfully for a third straight day to enter Crimea. Pro-Russian gunmen manning roadblocks fired warning shots into the air as the OSCE delegation approached.
The OSCE mission was said to be returning to the Ukrainian city of Kherson.
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported
that Russia continued to ferry troops and equipment to Crimea.
A large Russian military convoy of dozens of troop carriers drove to a base near the Crimean capital, Simferopol. And a Ukrainian military spokesman said a large number of troops had been ferried across the Strait of Kerch during the night from Russia.
The OSCE said on April 8 that non-Russian media in Crimea are facing severe restrictions, including blocked television signals. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, warned in a statement issued in Vienna that "Extreme censorship, shutting down media outlets and press hubs and attacks and intimidation of journalists must stop immediately."
The terrestrial signals of several Ukrainian television channels have been cut over the past few days. The OSCE said the channels include major private broadcaster "Inter," independent "Channel 5," and state-owned "First National."
The Ukrainian broadcasters have been replaced by a series of Russian channels such as the state-owned Rossiya 24 and army broadcaster Zvezda.
Mijatovic also said that journalists from Ukrainian and international media organizations including the BBC and CNN have been assaulted or threatened.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on March 8 that Warsaw is evacuating the Polish consulate in Sevastopol, Crimea, because of the "continuing disturbances by Russian forces." Poland urged its citizens to leave Crimea and eastern Ukraine as well.
Ukrainian acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said Ukraine will never give up Crimea and that Kyiv is doing everything it can to resolve the crisis there peacefully.
He emphasized that Ukraine's government -- like its U.S. counterpart and EU officials -- does not consider a referendum on joining Russia that has been set for March 16 in Crimea legal.
Deshchytsya also stressed the need for a diplomatic solution.
"The Ukrainian government and I think the Ukrainian people also perfectly understand that good neighborhood relations are key for the security in the region," Deshchytsya said. "And we would like to keep such good neighborhood relations with all of our neighbors including Russia. That's the reason why we still keep an option for diplomatic dialogue."
He contrasted the situation with that of Abkhazia, a breakaway Georgian republic that along with South Ossetia was at the center of a brutal five-day war between Georgia and Russia in 2008, saying the current efforts were aimed at "preventing bloodshed," according to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on March 8 that Russia is open to having an "honest, equal" dialogue with foreign states on the crisis in Ukraine, but he insisted that Moscow bears no responsibility for the situation.
"They are trying to represent us as a participant in the conflict, which we are not," Lavrov said. "This conflict is of an inner-Ukrainian nature, inspired from outside, and not by us. The so-called interim government is not independent -- to our huge regret, it is dependent on the radical nationalists who seized power in an armed attack."
Lavrov also criticized the government in Kyiv for allegedly barring Russian journalists from entering the country, saying it was an assault on freedom of information.
Russian news agencies have quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry source as saying Moscow is considering a freeze on U.S. military inspections under the START nuclear arms treaty and the 2011 Vienna agreement on confidence-building measures with NATO.
Gazrpom has threatened to cut gas supplies to Ukraine if Kyiv fails to pay its gas bill soon, reportedly nearly $2 billion.
The Russian occupation has been in place since February 28.
Ukraine says there are 30,000 Russians in Crimea. The Pentagon estimates their number at around 20,000.
In eastern Ukraine, thousands of pro-Russian activists rallied in Donetsk and Kharkiv on March 8.
The United States has imposed visa bans and asset freezes against so far unidentified people -- reportedly from Russia and Ukraine -- deemed responsible for threatening Ukraine's sovereignty.
The European Union, Russia's biggest economic partner and energy customer, has adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.
Early on March 8, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said Russia's president had "not yet exercised" his "right" to use military force in Ukraine.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service