A move by the Crimean authorities to rejoin Russia and go ahead with a referendum on the issue next week was dismissed as illegitimate by the United States on Thursday as the crisis in Ukraine continued.
US President Barack Obama said the referendum scheduled for March 16 in Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law.
“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Mr. Obama said. “In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”
Mr. Obama later spoke with Mr. Putin by telephone for one hour, suggesting direct talks between the governments of Ukraine and Russia as a way to diplomatically resolve the situation, the White House said.
The talks would be facilitated by the international community, a White House statement said. Allowing international monitors into Ukraine and returning Russian forces to their bases would be part of the solution, Mr. Obama told Mr. Putin.
In Rome, Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Mr. Obama’s remarks about the referendum saying that under the Ukrainian constitution, all Ukrainians would have to participate in the referendum in order for it to be legitimate.
Mr. Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Rome, but no agreement was reached, notably on the formation of an international contact group for Ukraine.
Mr. Lavrov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that US visa restrictions and financial sanctions against Russia were “unconstructive.”
Earlier, in Brussels, EU leaders suspended negotiations with Moscow on a new cooperation agreement and a much-desired easing of European visa requirements for Russians.
They also threatened Moscow with asset freezes, travel bans and the cancellation of a June 3 EU-Russia summit if it does not start engaging with Ukrainian authorities.
“Such negotiations need to start within the next few days and produce results within a limited timeframe,” the 28 leaders said in a joint statement.