Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will discuss formation of a contact group to establish direct talks with Ukraine, British government officials say.
The news comes after a telephone call between the Russian leader, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, marking a continuation of Western efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
“President Putin agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine. He said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that he would discuss the proposals on the contact group with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow,” a Downing Street spokeswoman confirmed on Sunday.
The Russian leader defended what he called the “legitimate” Crimean leadership’s decision to hold a secession referendum, which has been denounced as illegal by the US and the European Union.
Ukraine’s “desperate financial plight” was discussed on the call, with the three leaders agreeing on the need for financial aid to the former Soviet republic, which experts say is on the brink of default.
Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk will travel to the United States to meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday. The formal visit is intended to underline strong US support for the Ukrainian people, the White House said in a statement.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague stepped up the pressure for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine, saying that the Russian occupation of Crimea would prove a “big miscalculation” in the long term.
In Kiev, Ukraine’s new leadership has frozen the bank accounts of members of the pro-Russian government in the Crimean peninsula in an effort to regain control of the region.
Crimean Deputy Premier Rustam Temirgalyew said that if Crimeans vote to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation at a referendum set for March 16, the peninsula would in any case be introducing the Russian currency, the rouble.
The news comes amid further attacks on Ukrainian military bases in Crimea by suspected members of the Russian military.
Russia has sent at least 2000 troops to Crimea since the onset of the crisis, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday, citing NATO sources.
Moscow has thus far denied deploying troops to the region.