U.S. President Barack Obama says the international community is united in its determination to isolate Russia because of its annexation of Crimea, and that the issue highlights the need for Europe to find other sources for its energy supplies.
Mr. Obama spoke Wednesday in Brussels after meeting with European Union leaders on the future of Europe's energy needs as well as the crisis in Ukraine. He said Russia's energy sector could be the next target of economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union.
Mr. Obama also meets with NATO officials Wednesday. He told reporters in Brussels that NATO needs a regular presence in countries that feel vulnerable to Russia. He said the situation in Ukraine is a reminder that "freedom isn't free" and added that collective defense means "everybody's got to chip in" to maintain a deterrent force.
Mr. Obama's talks in Europe are expected to further reinforce Western opposition to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
In his NATO talks, President Obama is expected to reassure allies of U.S. support and urge members to provide assistance to the Ukrainian government. He then travels from Belgium to Italy, where he will meet with Pope Francis.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday following a nuclear summit in The Hague, Mr. Obama said Russia was acting "out of weakness" in its annexation of Crimea. He said the international community would never recognize Russia's takeover of Crimea, but that a military response from the West was unlikely.
On Monday, President Obama and leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan said they were suspending their participation with Russia in the G8 until Moscow "changes course."
But Russian news agencies quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying Russia is ready for and interested in continuing contacts with its fellow G8 countries.
The current instability surrounding Ukraine began last November, when then-President Viktor Yanukovych backed off from signing a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. The move led to weeks of anti-government protests in Kyiv that forced the pro-Russian Mr. Yanukovych to flee the country last month.
People in Crimea voted last week in a highly controversial ballot to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, a move quickly embraced by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States and the European Union say the vote violates Ukraine's constitution and is illegal.
Russia, meanwhile, is showing no signs of pulling its forces from Crimea, and Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from installations there. On Tuesday, Ukrainian marines began leaving Crimea by the busload as Russian forces took control of the last remaining military base under Ukrainian control.
President Obama says Washington is still concerned about "further encroachment" into Ukraine by Russia.