As the threat of a showdown between Russia and the West over Ukraine loomed large, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has deplored Moscow's military build up on the Crimean peninsula and called on President Vladimir Putin to respect the country's territorial integrity.
Merkel told Putin in a telephone call on Sunday night that his country has violated international law with its "unacceptable" military intervention in Crimea, a government spokesman said.
She reminded Putin that under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, his country is committed to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and its existing borders.
Russia also violated the 1997 treaty with Ukraine on stationing its Black Sea fleet in Crimea, Merkel told Putin. Putin defended Russia's military intervention in Crimea, but accepted a dialogue offer from Merkel, the spokesman said.
He told Merkel that the steps taken by his government were intended to defend Russia's interests and to protect the Russian citizens and Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, who feel threatened by the events in Crimea and in Ukraine.
The Russian president agreed to Merkel's proposal to create a "contact group" to explore the possibilities for a political solution to the present crisis in Ukraine and to send a fact-finding mission there, the spokesman said.
The chancellor also spoke to US President Barack Obama on Sunday night, the spokesman said. Meanwhile, the G-7 group of leading industrialised nations
have suspended their preparations for their next summit in Sochi in southern Russia in June, in response to the country's military intervention in Crimea.
In a joint statement issued by the White House in Washington, the group comprising the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Japan and Italy said Russia's actions in Ukraine "contravenes the principles and values on which the G-7 and G-8 operate".
"As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend the participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 summit in Sochi in June until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussions," they said.
The G-7 nations condemned Russia's "clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia's obligations under the UN charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine," the statement said.
They called on the Russian government to address any ongoing security or human rights concerns it has with Ukraine through direct negotiations or through international mediation or observation under the auspices of the UN or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the statement said.
The G-7 nations "are united in supporting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and its right to chose its own future".
They also pledged their support for Ukraine in its efforts to restore unity, stability and political and economic health in the country.