U.S. rejects Crimea referendum, warns Russia of imminent sanctions

(Reuters) – The United States warned Russia on Sunday that Western sanctions were imminent and Moscow would pay an increasing price for its military intervention in Ukraine as the White House rejected a referendum in the Crimea region that it was powerless to stop.

With Washington and its European allies expected to unveil coordinated punitive measures against Moscow as early as Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Russia must pull its forces in Crimea back to their bases.

“This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

U.S. options are limited to prevent Putin from formally annexing the strategic region, but some officials in Washington are hopeful that instead of pressing ahead with such a provocative action Putin may hold off for now, seeking to avoid further escalation of the situation.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the administration was working with European partners to step up pressure on Russia in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War. Crimea’s pro-Russian regional government went ahead with the referendum despite U.S. and European pressure to call it off.

“You can expect sanctions designations in the coming days,” Pfeiffer told NBC’s Meet the Press, as the administration prepared to identify Russians whom the United States will seek to punish with visa bans and asset freezes the president authorized last week.

While Washington and its allies essentially have ruled out military action, American and European Union officials worked over the weekend preparing coordinated lists of those to be targeted initially.

Sanctions are not expected to be imposed on Putin himself at this point, and a congressional source said the first round could also spare Russian oligarchs close to him.

Though news reports have cited some of Putin’s senior aides as possible targets, U.S. and European officials could decide to start mostly with lower-level Russian officials seen as complicit in the takeover of Crimea.

Full article: U.S. rejects Crimea referendum, warns Russia of imminent sanctions (Reuters)

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