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White House: threat of new US sanctions against Russia still on the table

May 31, 2014, 2:11 UTC+3 WASHINGTON

Rhodes told the press of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming European tour plans and stressed that the Ukrainian crisis will be the focus of the trip

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Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting

Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting

© AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON, May 31. /ITAR-TASS/. The threat of new sanctions against Russia over its position on Ukraine is still on the table, an assistant to the US president and a US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting said.

Should the Ukrainian crisis escalate further, the consequences will be harsher for Russia’s economy, Ben Rhodes told journalists on Friday when asked if the United States will call on its allies to impose additional penalties against Moscow.

Rhodes told the press of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming European tour plans and stressed that the Ukrainian crisis will be the focus of the trip, which will be made to Poland, Belgium and France in June. In particular, the issue will be discussed at a G7 summit on June 4-5 in Brussels.

Unstable Ukraine

Instability embraced Ukraine after a coup occurred in the country in February. Security concerns caused President Viktor Yanukovich to leave the country the same month.

The Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the Crimean Peninsula, where most residents are Russians, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities, brought to power by the coup.

Crimea and Sevastopol adopted declarations of independence on March 11. They held a referendum on March 16, in which 96.77% of Crimeans and 95.6% of Sevastopol voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the reunification deals March 18.

After Crimea’s incorporation by Russia, massive protests against the new Ukrainian authorities in Kiev erupted in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking southeastern territories. Demonstrators in southeastern regions, who have been demanding the country’s federalization, seized some government buildings.

Kiev has been conducting a punitive operation against pro-federalization activists that has already reportedly claimed dozens of lives, including civilian.

The Donetsk and Lugansk regions held referendums on May 11, in which most voters supported independence from Ukraine.

In late April, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Western claims that Russia could be in any way involved in pro-federalization protests in southeastern Ukraine.

“People say our special forces are present there [in Ukraine], say we have sent instructors there. Let me say in all responsibility that there are no Russian instructors, special forces or troops of any kind there. We have no one there,” Putin said.

Western sanctions on Russia

Despite Moscow’s repeated statements that the Crimean referendum on secession was in line with the international law and the UN Charter and in conformity with the precedent set by Kosovo’s secession from Serbia in 2008, the West and Kiev have refused to recognize the legality of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

Some Russian and Crimean officials and companies have been subjected to sanctions by Western nations, including visa bans and asset freezes after Crimea’s incorporation by Russia.

Russia has dismissed the threats of further penalties, including economic ones, against it, saying the language of punitive measures is counterproductive and will have a boomerang effect on Western countries.

A regular summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations was due to be held in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi in June, but member countries except Russia (G7) decided in March that the summit will not be held in Sochi but in Brussels instead. The move came as the West’s response to Russia’s position on events in Ukraine.

In the Soviet Union, Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, when it was gifted to Ukraine by Soviet Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday at a regular press briefing that the US government is still considering possible broader sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine. She said Washington will be “coordinating with the EU” whether to use additional punitive measures against Moscow.

Psaki was unable to offer any proof to substantiate US allegations that Moscow was in any way involved in disruption of voting in Ukraine’s eastern regions during last Sunday’s presidential election in the country.

Presidential election in Ukraine

An early presidential election, set by Ukraine’s provisional authorities in Kiev who came to power amid riots during the February coup, was held in Ukraine on Sunday, May 25.

With nearly all ballots counted, billionaire businessman and politician Pyotr Poroshenko won the election with 54.7% of the vote, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission (CEC) reported Thursday.

Poroshenko’s closest rival, ex-premier Yulia Timoshenko, has 12.81% and Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko is in the third place with 8.32% President-elect Poroshenko is expected to be sworn in on June 7 in Kiev, Ukrainian media reported Thursday.

Poroshenko earlier told media he had provided assistance to Euromaidan protesters in Kiev.

“Euromaidan” is a collective name for anti-government protests in Ukraine that started when Yanukovich refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union in November last year to study the deal more thoroughly. The refusal triggered protests that often turned violent and resulted in February’s coup.

Meanwhile, only 20% of polling stations were open in Ukraine’s breakaway eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions during Sunday’s vote, the head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation to the Ukrainian election, Tana de Zulueta, said at a news conference on Monday.

Zulueta also said that the voting had not taken place in 10 out of 22 districts of the Donetsk Region and in 14 out of 23 districts in the Lugansk Region. More than 800 out of 3,908 polling stations were open, she said, adding that the voter turnout at these polling stations had been lower than across the country on the average.

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