U.S. President Barack Obama told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Sunday that Washington and its “European partners are prepared to impose additional costs” on Moscow for backing a secession referendum in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
In Kyiv, Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk – speaking at an emergency cabinet meeting – called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote “a circus spectacle” directed at gunpoint by Russia.
An earlier White House statement said no decision should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian national government.
It also said the presidential elections planned for May 25 will provide a legitimate opportunity for all Ukrainians to make their voices heard on the future of their country.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday agreed to push for Ukrainian constitutional reforms for power sharing and decentralization as a solution to the crisis.
In Kyiv, Ukraine’s acting defense minister told reporters that both Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a truce in Crimea until March 21.
Sunday’s vote came a day after Russian forces seized a natural gas facility just outside Crimean territory. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the move “a military invasion by Russia.”
Ukraine provides the peninsula with all of its water and energy needs, and some analysts say the seizure may be aimed at ensuring the peninsula’s energy requirements are met in the event Kyiv were to cut off supplies.
There are no reports of shots being fired, but the ministry called the takeover an “invasion” and demands that Russian soldiers leave. Ukrainian border guards say the Russians are guarding a gas pumping station in the town.
Meanwhile, White House Spokesman Jay Carney on Sunday promised a swift response to any additional Russian advances into Ukraine.
“There most definitely will be additional costs if Russia escalates this conflict rather than de-escalates. And they will be imposed by the United States, but also by our European partners,” Carney said.