The United States and the European Union will respond on March 16 with a “serious series of steps” against Russia if a referendum on Ukraine’s Crimea region goes ahead on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.
Kerry told a congressional hearing he hoped to avoid such steps, which include sanctions, through discussions with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in London on Friday.
He said it is not clear whether Russia is willing to negotiate with Ukraine and the international community to resolve the conflict over Crimea peacefully.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry discussed proposals for resolving the crisis in Ukraine during a telephone conversation on Thursday.
Lavrov and Kerry, who are due to meet in London on Friday, discussed “the situation in Ukraine, taking into account existing Russian and U.S. proposals to normalize the atmosphere and provide for civil peace,” the ministry said.
Germany warns Russia
Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia risks “massive” political and economic damage if it does not change course in the Ukraine crisis.
In a speech to the German parliament Thursday, Merkel said Ukraine’s territorial integrity is “not up for discussion.”
She also said the European Union will impose sanctions on Russia if it does not move to set up a contact group to discuss the Crimea crisis.
The West and Russia have been locked in a tense standoff over Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Risk of war
Ukraine’s acting president said on Thursday that Russian forces were concentrated on the border “ready to invade” but he believed international efforts could end Moscow’s “aggression” and avert the risk of war.
A statement on the presidential website said Oleksandr Turchynov told a local television channel that, when Russian forces took over the southern region of Crimea last week, other units were concentrated on Ukraine’s eastern border “ready for an invasion of the territory of Ukraine at any moment.”
”We are doing all we can to avoid war, whether in Crimea or in any other region of Ukraine,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s own armed forces were in a state of full combat readiness.
However, he said: “All of civilized humanity supports our country. All the leading countries of the world are on the side of Ukraine, and I am sure that this united effort in the international arena, bringing together all democratic countries, can still allow us to halt this aggression.”