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Obama, Merkel crank up pressure on Russia

US President Barack Obama speaks after visiting a classroom at Coral Reef High School in Miami, Florida on March 7, 2014
US President Barack Obama speaks after visiting a classroom at Coral Reef High School in Miami, Florida on March 7, 2014

President Barack Obama hailed the "unified position" of the European Union and the United States against Russia's incursion into Ukraine during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.

The call came as Ukraine braced for new pro-Russian protests in the tense eastern city of Donetsk after Moscow threatened to cut crucial gas supplies to the country, further escalating hostilities with the West.

Obama and Merkel "agreed on the need for Russia to pull back its forces, allow for the deployment of international observers and human rights monitors to Crimea, and support free and fair presidential elections in May," a White House statement said.

"They discussed the need for Russia to agree quickly on the formation of a contact group that will lead to direct dialogue between Ukraine and Russia to de-escalate the situation and restore Ukraine's territorial integrity.

"The leaders reiterated their grave concern over Russia's clear violation of international law through its military intervention in Ukraine."

The West has warned of sanctions against Moscow over its actions in Crimea, where pro-Kremlin gunmen blocked a foreign observer mission aimed at defusing tensions on the semi-autonomous peninsula.

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