NATO called Sunday for the dispatch of international observers to Ukraine and for Russia to pull back its forces, while also seeking talks between Moscow and the 28-nation alliance.
"We urge both parties to immediately seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue, through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the OSCE," said a statement read out by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Winding up almost eight hours of talks, NATO allies condemned Russia's military escalation in Crimea and insisted that it "refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine" and abide by international commitments.
But the emphasis was on a political solution, with no threat of reprisal but instead a call to Moscow to "engage" in talks with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Asked to elaborate, Rasmussen said many members had asked for a meeting with Russia, but he gave no schedule for the talks.
The allies called also for "an inclusive political process in Ukraine based on democratic values, respect for human rights, minorities and the rule of law, which fulfils the democratic aspirations of the entire Ukrainian people".
Monday will see an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels as global powers scramble for a common response and amid talk of a possible extraordinary European Union summit next week.
As Sunday's talks began, Moscow faced a barrage of US-led warnings of reprisals, including the loss of its prestigious G8 seat.
Britain and France meanwhile announced they were suspending preparations for a June summit in Sochi of the Group of Eight developed nations, joining Canada and the United States in sanctioning President Vladimir Putin for his stance on Ukraine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry had warned that Putin might even be stripped of his G8 seat, as well as face asset freezes on Russian business. "If Russia wants to be a G8 country it needs to behave like a G8 country," he said on CBS.
But Germany disagreed, with Foreign Minister Frank-Wakter Steinmeier saying that "the G8 panel is the only panel where we Westerners talk directly to Russia, so should we really sacrifice this only panel?".
- Ending the Cold War syndrome -
As the NATO talks wound up, the German government said Putin had agreed to a proposal to set up a contact group on Ukraine, possibly run by the OSCE, enabling the opening of a political dialogue.
"We need to talk to Putin, who has his own good reasons for doing bad things," a senior diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.
"The situation is extremely dangerous. We need a way out of this 'us' and 'them' Cold War syndrome."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who along with Hague has urged Ukrainians and Russians to engage in direct talks over the crisis, appeared to have similar views.
"Russia is traditionally our friend. We want a traditional friend far more than sabre-rattling," Fabius said.
Scenarios being mulled included calling the two sides to communicate through organisations such as the United Nations or Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) even finding a mediator nation, for example among the non-aligned, or traditional Russia ally China.
"If Putin stops now, he can have both: annexation of Crimea and good relations with West," tweeted Ulrich Speckm an analyst at Carnegie Europe.
Ukraine signed up to a partnership deal with NATO in 1997 but is not a full member. It was given the nod to eventually join at a 2008 summit in a move that infuriated Russia.
It was then that Putin is famously reported to have said to then US president George Bush that "Ukraine is not even a state".
Two years later, the country's now ousted pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovych, ditched the NATO membership bid.
by Claire ROSEMBERG © 2014 AFP
Date: Mar 2, 2014