- Last Updated on 13 March 2014
- By WA
Barack Obama is hopeful a last-ditch diplomatic effort can put a stop to a Russian-backed referendum to decide the future of Crimea.
At a meeting in the White House with Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the US President said that if the vote went ahead, America would not recognise the result.
"We will not recognise any referendum that goes forward," he said, to which Yatsenyuk added: "Ukraine is and will be part of the Western world."
The proposed referendum in Crimea on Sunday will decide whether the region should separate from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
In a statement issued by the White House on behalf of the G7 leaders, the Obama administration declared that if the vote went ahead it would have "no legal effect" given "the intimidating presence of Russian troops".
Meanwhile, the US passed a bill authorising a $billion loan to Ukraine's new government and paving the way for tough economic sanctions on Russia to put pressure on President Putin to pull Russian troops out of Crimea.
Youths hold up a Crimea flag ahead of a planned referendum
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry is travelling to London to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday.
Mr Kerry has said he will present Mr Lavrov a "series of options" in a bid to resolve the dispute.
"We will offer certain choices to Foreign Minister Lavrov and to President Putin through him and to Russia, with hopes, and I think the hopes of the world, that we will be able to find a way forward that defuses this," Mr Kerry told a House hearing in Washington.
Ukrainian military personnel remain in Crimea despite the tensions
He said it was not in anyone's interests to isolate Moscow "but we will do what we have to do if Russia cannot find a way to make the right choices here".
The frantic diplomatic effort came as Ukraine accused Russia of massing 80,000 troops, 270 tanks and 140 combat aircraft close to the border, creating the "threat of a full-scale invasion".
The Black Sea peninsula has been the scene of a tense stand-off between Moscow and the West, following the toppling of Kremlin ally Viktor Yanukovych as Ukrainian president.
It led to the seizing of the region by pro-Russian forces.
Vladimir Putin is portrayed as a Nazi officer by protesters in Odessa
Crimea's majority Russian-speaking population are expected to back the split from Ukraine.
The vote has been denounced by the new Ukrainian government in Kiev, which has vowed not to give up a "single centimetre" of territory.
And in a statement ahead of a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the US and other Group of Seven nations said they would not recognise the referendum.
"We call on the Russian Federation to immediately halt actions supporting a referendum on the territory of Crimea regarding its status, in direct violation of the constitution of Ukraine," it read.
"Any such referendum would have no legal effect."
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the move arguing it is legal.
Mr Kerry has been unsuccessfully trying for more than a week to broker a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and European diplomats to try and ease tensions.
The Secretary of State told Congress he would be flying to London to meet Mr Lavrov on the instruction of President Barack Obama.