PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA held telephone talks with key European allies on today amid warnings of “new measures” against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
The White House confirmed that Obama discussed Ukraine in calls with French counterpart Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian leader Matteo Renzi.
“The leaders reiterated their grave concern over Russia’s clear violation of international law and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a White House summary of the phone calls said.
Obama also hosted a conference call with the leaders of Baltic former Soviet states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to discuss the ongoing situation.
Obama reaffirmed the “United States’ unwavering commitment to our collective defense commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty and our enduring support for the security and democracy of our Baltic allies”.
The French presidency said earlier in Paris that Hollande and Obama discussed “new measures” against Russia if it failed to act to defuse the crisis.
The months-long crisis in Ukraine, which resulted in the ouster last month of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, has worsened since the Crimean parliament’s decision Thursday to secede from Ukraine and stage a March 16 referendum on joining Russia.
Ukraine also said there were now 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea — 5,000 more than the contingent allowed under an existing agreement with Kiev.
Russia says it has stepped up protection of its naval base in Crimea and is working together with local self-defence units but refuses to acknowledge deploying extra troops.
“In the current grave circumstances,” Hollande and Obama “stressed the importance for Russia to agree rapidly to the formation of a contact group allowing for Ukraine and Russia to engage in dialogue, with a view to favouring a peaceful exit to the crisis and restoring fully Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.
“They recalled the absence of any legal basis to the planned referendum in Crimea on March 16,” the presidency said.
The two leaders also agreed, the statement added, to continue their support for the new pro-western authorities in Ukraine as well as for the preparation for presidential elections on May 25, “under international control and in the greatest transparency”.
The United States has already imposed visa bans and set the stage for wider sanctions against Russia over the seizure of the Ukrainian region of Crimea by pro-Russia forces.