WASHINGTON (AFP) - Stepping up the pressure on Russia, the United States on Thursday imposed visa restrictions and set the stage for other potential sanctions over the Russian intervention in Crimea.
US President Barack Obama was ordering visa bans "in response to Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said.
In an executive order, Mr Obama also authorised the blocking of property of officials and individuals implicit in such action.
"This (executive order) is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate," the administration said.
The move comes after Russian forces took de facto control of strategically important Crimea, home to Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet, following the ouster on February 22 of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
Washington, in response to the incursion on the peninsula, has already announced it was pulling out of preparatory meetings for the G8 and warned it was prepared to slap sanctions on Moscow. Other steps include suspending bilateral discussions on trade and investment, the White House said.
"Depending on how the situation develops, the United States is prepared to consider additional steps and sanctions as necessary," it said in a statement.
"We call on Russia to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis through direct and immediate dialogue with the government of Ukraine," it said.
It also urged the "immediate pull-back of Russia's military forces to their bases, the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, and support for the urgent deployment of international observers and human rights monitors who can assure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians."
Mr Dan Pfeiffer, Mr Obama's top political advisor, said the executive order would "set up a framework for potential sanctions."