The Group of Seven has agreed to "move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia", a joint statement Saturday said, as pro-Russian militants accused members of an OSCE observer mission detained near Slaviansk of being "spies".
The G7 statement also praised the "restraint" with which the new government in Kiev has shown in dealing with the pro-Russian militants who have seized official buildings across the country's east.
Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU foreign ministers would meet soon to discuss the issue following a conference call with US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The G7 also includes Canada and Japan.
The United States and the European Union have already targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle with visa and asset freezes and imposed sanctions on a key Russian bank. Western leaders have repeatedly threatened to hit Russia with measures aimed at the wider economy.
Obama, however, has signalled that the new sanctions will not involve an attempt to target key areas of the Russian economy such as mining, energy and the financial sectors. US officials have said those measures would only be considered if Russia sends forces across the border into eastern Ukraine.
Several members of an OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) observer mission to Ukraine were detained Friday at the entrance to Slaviansk and taken to the rebel-held security services building, sparking immediate international condemnation.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the pro-Russian separatists had taken 13 mission members, including three members of the German army and an interpreter.
The pro-Russian rebels holding them accused the observers of being "NATO spies" and said they would be freed only in a prisoner exchange.
"Yesterday, we arrested some NATO spies... they will be exchanged for our own prisoners. I don't see any other way they will be freed," Denis Pushilin, the head of the insurgents' self-declared Donetsk Republic, told reporters.
Washington called for the immediate release of the OSCE team and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki repeated claims that "there is a strong connection between Russia and these separatists" who are now taking hostages.
Rebels in Slaviansk on Friday released US national Simon Ostrovsky, one of three journalists they were believed to be holding.
'Third world war'
Ukrainian authorities have ratcheted up military operations against pro-Russian rebels in the rebel-held city of Slaviansk as Kiev accused Moscow of seeking to trigger a "third world war" by fomenting unrest in the region.
"The world hasn't forgotten the Second World War and Russia wants to start a third world war," Ukrainian acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.
"Russia's support for the terrorists in Ukraine constitutes an international crime and we call on the international community to unite against the Russian aggression," he said.
A Western diplomat separately voiced fresh concern over a possible Russian military incursion into eastern Ukraine.
"We no longer exclude a Russian military intervention in Ukraine in the coming days," the diplomatic source said, noting that Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin "has been recalled urgently to Moscow" for consultations.
Russian warplanes have violated Ukraine's airspace several times in the past 24 hours, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said Friday.
The White House has said that Moscow could "still choose a peaceful resolution to the crisis" by implementing a deal struck in Geneva last week to defuse the tension.
Russia: US to 'seize' Ukraine
Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky told reporters at the United Nations that his country would exercise restraint in its operations against pro-Russian separatists.
"The anti-terrorist operation is ongoing, but we are guided by one major idea: we would like to avoid any victims or casualties," he said.
Kiev announced that its forces were now seeking to "blockade" rebels inside Slaviansk in a bid to prevent militant reinforcements from arriving and to spare civilian casualties.
An AFP journalist saw heavily armed troops setting up a checkpoint some 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the town of 110,000 people.
On Thursday, Ukrainian armoured vehicles and commandos had made a brief but dramatic incursion into Slaviansk, killing a 22-year-old insurgent.
Rebels in Slaviansk remained defiant Friday, vowing: "We will not surrender the town."
Only 16 kilometres to the south, at an air base close to the city of Kramatorsk, a rocket-propelled grenade blew up a Ukrainian military helicopter sitting on the tarmac, officials in Kiev said. The pilot escaped but was wounded.
Russia responded to Ukraine's military offensive by ordering its troops massed on the border to launch new drills.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Kiev's offensive was part of a US plot to "seize" Ukraine for its own "geopolitical ambitions and not the interests of the Ukrainian people".
In a sign of the increasingly desperate efforts to prevent the conflict spiralling out of control, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned: "There is not much time to end this madness."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-26