Kerry Urges Russia to Exercise Utmost Restraint in Crimea

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet to discuss the Ukraine crisis on the sidelines of an International conference on Libya in Rome on March 6, 2014. KEVIN LAMARQUE / AFP - Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a telephone call on Saturday that any Russian steps to annex Ukraine's Crimea region would close the door to diplomacy, a U.S. State Department official said.

"He made clear that continued military escalation and provocation in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine, along with steps to annex Crimea to Russia would close any available space for diplomacy, and he urged utmost restraint," the official said.

President Barack Obama, who is on a weekend vacation with his family in Florida, placed a series of calls to six world leaders who agreed Russia needs to pull its military forces back to their bases and allow international observers into Crimea, the White House said.

He convened a conference call with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Latvian President Andris Berzins, and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. It was the first time he has spoken with the leaders of the three Baltic states about the crisis.

The countries are NATO members with strong economic ties to Russia, and have expressed nervousness about President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine.

Obama made his third call this week about the crisis to British Prime Minister David Cameron and his second call in a week to French President Francois Hollande, and the leaders agreed on the diplomatic steps needed to defuse the tension in the region.

"They underlined that, if there was no progress was made in that direction, new measures would be taken that would sensibly affect relations between Russia and the international community, which is in no one's interest," Hollande's office said.

Obama also called Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, his first call about Ukraine to the NATO member, the White House said. On Friday night, Obama telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

— Reuters

President Barack Obama talks on the telephone with President Francois Hollande of France to discuss the situation in Ukraine, in Key Largo, Florida, on March 8.Pete Souza / The White House