- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The U.S. and its key allies on Wednesday threatened “further action” against Russia if it continues to support and encourage a planned secession vote in Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula.

The region is set to vote Sunday whether to split from Ukraine and join Russia. Crimea’s parliament also has raised the possibility it could stand as its own independent state, if voters favor breaking off from Ukraine.

Whatever the outcome, the U.S. and its partners delivered a stern warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling Moscow to stay out of Ukraine’s affairs and pull back troops that have poured into the area over the past several weeks.

“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,” reads a statement from the G-7, the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. Those seven nations already have halted plans to attend a meeting in Sochi, Russia, in June.

The threat comes the same day new Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrives in Washington to meet with President Obama, a clear signal from the White House that it intends to do business with the new government in Kiev.

The White House already has made clear it won’t recognize the results of a Crimean secession vote. Tuesday’s statement makes clear other nations also won’t accept it as legitimate.

“Any such referendum would have no legal effect. Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force. For all these reasons, we would not recognize the outcome,” the statement reads. “The annexation of Crimea could have grave implications for the legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states. Should the Russian Federation take such a step, we will take further action, individually and collectively.”

It’s unclear exactly what the White House and its allies are prepared to do. The U.S. already has imposed some economic sanctions, revoked visas and taken other steps to punish those responsible for the unrest and violence in Ukraine.

The European Union also is prepping further sanctions but its process is moving slower than that of the U.S.