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Also on Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order imposing visa bans on individuals who are “directly responsible for destabilizing Ukraine,” including both Russian and Ukrainian citizens. Those affected by the order include “individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes of institutions in Ukraine,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
A senior administration official added in a conference call that if Russia did not respond to international pressure to back down in Crimea, or if it showed signs of advancing further into Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, additional measures would be taken.
The EU meanwhile announced that it was suspending talks with Russia on a wide-ranging economic pact and on a visa deal. It also threatened further sanctions if Russia does not quickly engage in talks to end the crisis.
After a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels, Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, confirmed that the EU members of G-8 had also agreed to suspend preparations for a G8 summit in the Olympic town of Sochi, slated for June.
As the diplomatic effort to ease tensions moves ahead, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged Russia to engage with international mediation efforts, with the United Nations and the European Union holding emergency meetings to discuss the crisis.
"We ask Russia to respond, whether they are ready to preserve peace and stability in Europe, or they are ready to instigate other provocations and tensions in our bilateral and multilateral relations," he said, according to Reuters.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who also met with Kerry in Rome on Thursday, on the sidelines of a meeting to discuss Libya, criticized developments of the last 48 hours, namely NATO's decision to suspend collaboration with Moscow and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sending a delegation to Ukraine.
In a statement published on Russia's Foreign Ministry website on Thursday, Lavrov said: "I want to very briefly say that we had a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the situation in Ukraine in relation to the actions that our partners are trying to take — action that does not help create an atmosphere for dialogue and constructive cooperation."
Kerry "made clear the importance of the Russians talking directly to the Ukrainians," U.S. diplomatic sources told journalists after the 40-minute meeting.
The U.N. Security Council will also hold a closed-door session in New York on Thursday to discuss Ukraine.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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