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Obama Meeting Ukraine's New PM at White House

U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting Ukraine's interim prime minister at the White House Wednesday, as the standoff between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian region of Crimea continues.

This is President Obama's first meeting with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and is meant to underscore U.S. support for the new government and the Ukrainian people.

As part of the talks, Mr. Yatsenyuk and President Obama will discuss financial assistance for Ukraine. The U.S. has already pledged $1 billion in aid.

The Ukrainian interim prime minister's visit to Washington comes as Crimea, with its majority-Russian population, prepares for a Moscow-backed referendum Sunday on joining Russia.

The U.S. State Department announced Wednesday that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday in London for talks on Ukraine ahead of Sunday's referendum.

Also, in a statement released Wednesday, the leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations called on Russia to, in their words, "cease all efforts to change the status of Crimea contrary to Ukrainian law and in violation of international law" and "immediately halt actions" supporting the referendum on Crimea's future status.

The G7 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

The G7 leaders said they will not recognize the referendum's outcome. They also said Russia's "annexation" of Crimea would violate the United Nations Charter and that, should Moscow take such a step, the G7 member countries will take further action, both collectively and individually.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that the European Union will impose sanctions on Russia if it does not move to set up a contact group to discuss the Crimea crisis. Ms. Merkel also said that the EU could sign a political association agreement with Ukraine's new government during an EU summit next week.

The Reuters news agency reports that EU member states have agreed on the wording of sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes and travel restrictions against some individuals. Reuters says EU officials indicate the sanctions are unlikely to target Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov, in order to protect channels of communication.

A vote on the sanctions could come as early as Monday.

French President Francois Hollande told Mr. Putin in a phone call Wednesday that "annexation" of Crimea would be unacceptable, but that there was still time to prevent a "dangerous" escalation of the crisis.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 403 to six to condemn Russia for violating Ukraine's sovereignty in Crimea. The resolution also calls for international monitors to go to the region.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by phone Tuesday that it is "unacceptable" for Russian forces and "irregulars" to keep taking matters into their own hands in Ukraine. A State Department spokeswoman said Kerry told Lavrov the U.S. respects the fact that Russia has interests in Crimea, but that does not justify military intervention in the region.

The crisis in Crimea began late last month after ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kyiv following three months of protests against his withdrawal from a European Union trade deal.

Moscow has officially denied that its troops are participating in the occupation of Crimea. But witnesses say military personnel in unmarked uniforms arrived in Russian-registered vehicles earlier this month and freely admit to being Russian.

On Tuesday, the Crimean regional legislature adopted a "declaration of independence" with the intention of eventually becoming part of Russia. Ukraine's interim government and the West have dismissed the entire independence process in Crimea as illegitimate.

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