BRUSSELS (AFP) - Europe's leaders gathered for crisis talks on Ukraine on Thursday, pressing Russia to opt for dialogue and de-escalation while warning sanctions were in the offing should Moscow refuse a diplomatic solution.
"We have got to make sure we get Russia and Ukraine talking to each other," said British Prime Minister David Cameron on arriving for hastily convened talks, held as Crimea's parliament requested that the Ukrainian Black Sea region become part of Russia.
But echoing statements from the leaders of France, Germany, the Netherlands and others, Cameron said it was key to send a message to Moscow that events in Crimea were "unacceptable and should have consequences." "Were further action to be taken, that would be even more unacceptable and would require even more consequences," he said.
Russian forces took de facto control of strategically important Crimea, home to Kremlin's Black Sea Fleet, following the ouster on Feb 22 of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych.
Lawmakers in the majority Russian-speaking peninsula on Thursday made a request to President Vladimir Putin to join Russia, announcing a referendum on the question on March 16.
Invited to attend the summit in a strong symbolic gesture, Ukraine's interim premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of continued provocation around Ukrainian bases in Crimea.
"This is not only a Ukraine-Russia crisis, it is a crisis in Europe," Yatsenyuk said.
The bloc's 28 leaders met a day after the European Union executive offered Ukraine a huge 11-billion-euro ($15 billion) aid package to support its ailing economy and help pay massive gas bill arrears to Russia.
"Germany will support the package intensively," said Chancellor Angela Merkel as Kiev's transitional authorities awaited fresh pledges of support from other nations in Europe and elsewhere.
"There has to be a return to international law, and that means securing the territorial integrity of every country," Merkel said. "We can't do business as usual" with Russia.
She said leaders would talk about "different kinds of sanctions" should Putin refuse to budge and EU sources said a first phase of punitive measures would likely be diplomatic rather than economic.