By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s national security team discussed the Ukraine crisis in a session at the White House on Saturday after a last-ditch bid to find a diplomatic solution to the Cold War-style standoff with Russia floundered.
Crimea’s pro-Russia parliament has scheduled a referendum on Sunday to decide whether the region should be annexed by Russia, an ominous development that Obama and his national security team have been trying to head off to no avail.
Representative Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said the fresh Russian move was a deliberate violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and “clearly shows that Russia is an aggressor state.”
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kerry presented Lavrov with a number of concrete proposals to defuse tensions and address concerns by Moscow over security and protection of minorities within a united Ukraine.
The talks hit a wall early on when it became clear that Lavrov was not authorized by the Kremlin to discuss any proposal that might impact Crimea before the referendum, the official said.
Washington has said it will be ready to move on Monday to impose visa bans and asset freezes, involving Ukrainian and Russian officials, if the referendum goes ahead and it leads to the annexation of Crimea. The European Union and other Western powers have said they will match U.S. sanctions.
Vice President Joe Biden leaves on Monday on a visit to NATO allies Poland and Lithuania to show support for key partners in the region. In Vilnius he will meet the presidents of all three Baltic nations, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
(Reporting By Steve Holland, Lesley Wroughton and Phil Stewart; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Cynthia Osterman)