U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will seek assurances from Russia on Friday that it will not seek to annex Crimea and will address concerns over Ukraine through negotiation, a senior State Department official said before talks in London, Reuters reported.
Kerry meets Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov later in the day in last-ditch diplomatic efforts to defuse tension between Moscow and the West as a referendum in Crimea, a Russian-majority region of Ukraine, looks set to proceed on Sunday.
The vote, arranged after mass protests toppled pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, will decide whether Crimea will become part of Russia but Kerry has warned the Kremlin that the United States and the European Union will impose sanctions against Russia as soon as Monday if the referendum goes ahead.
"What we would like to see is a commitment to stop putting new facts on the ground and a commitment to engage seriously on ways to de-escalate the conflict, to bring Russian forces back to barracks, to use international observers in place of force to achieve legitimate political and human rights objectives," the U.S. State Department official said.
Kerry's first stop in London was a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron who said Britain wanted to see progress as much as the United States.
"We want to see Ukrainians and the Russians talking to each other and if they don't then there are going to have to be consequences," Cameron told reporters on Friday.
"I think the alignment of Britain and the European Union with the position that the U.S. is taking is absolutely right. We must keep at them."
As a result of protests in Ukraine, the country's President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted on Feb. 22. The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) has approved the new composition of the parliament and is preparing to hold pre-term elections.
On Feb. 26 several thousand people participating in two rallies gathered in front of Supreme Council of Crimea. After the escalation of the protest actions in Crimea, the Federation Council supported President Vladimir Putin's appeal regarding the use of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine pending "the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country".
Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the U.S., as well as chairman of the European Council and the chairman of the European Commission made a joint statement condemning Russia's position on Ukraine and canceled the preparations for the G8 summit in Sochi, scheduled for June 2014.