“Cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea or face sanctions”

The standoff over Crimea’s bid to join Russia spiralled to new heights as the Group of Seven warned Russia to back away or face sanctions in the backdrop of military muscle flexing in the region.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States said they “joined together to condemn the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and urged Moscow to “cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea” or face action.

“Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively,” the G7 statement said.

Crimea is set to hold a referendum on Sunday on whether to split Ukraine and join Russia or seek greater autonomy as part of Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry placed another phone call to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, but the sides could not report much headway. Mr. Lavrov reiterated “the right of Crimean residents to decide their own fate,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, while the U.S. State Department voiced disappointment with “the responses that we received back” from Moscow.

As Ukraine’s Acting Prime Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrived in Washington for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday, U.S. House of Representatives condemned Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine and called for sanctions against Russia.

The USS Truxtun, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, began a naval drill on Wednesday with a Bulgarian frigate and three Romanian vessels in the Black Sea a day after the nearby Crimean Peninsula proclaimed independence from Ukraine.

NATO said it had deployed two AWACS surveillance planes on Wednesday to fly over Poland and Romania to “monitor activity in the air and on the sea” around Ukraine.

The U.S. has also deployed additional fighter planes to Poland and Lithuania.

Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema said at a government session that the Ukrainian army had been placed “in maximum operational readiness, and all-Ukraine military exercises have started.”

Russia is also holding a large-scale war drill involving 3,500 paratroopers and 36 warplanes that are to continue through Thursday.

In an unfolding information war in the region Ukraine has banned main Russian TV channels on its territory. Citing the interests of “information security” Ukraine’s media regulator ordered all cable operators to stop transmitting five Russian channels, including Russia Today, Rossiya 1, Channel One, NTV and Rossiya 24.

The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe slammed the ban as a “repressive” move. Crimea, in its turn, began broadcasting Russian TV channels on frequencies earlier occupied by Ukrainian television.

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