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Selective support: US set to punish Russia for Ukraine elections, referendums results

The Unites States and EU have denounced the referendums planned by anti-coup protesters in Eastern Ukraine as illegal, at the same time demanding that the country-wide presidential elections take place despite the military operation in the East.

Should presidential elections in Ukraine fail to take place on May 25, the US and EU are ready to blame Russia, slapping new ‘powerful’ economic sanctions on Moscow, US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted on Tuesday.

“There's no question about our ability, when we want to, to be able to put sanctions in place that are even more biting than what we have today,” Kerry said in a joint news conference with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Washington officials were sending a message that any recognition of the scheduled referendums in the east of Ukraine by Russia will have dire economic consequences, at the same time accusing Moscow of trying to disrupt the presidential elections.

“What we're doing this week,” Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “…is trying to develop this strong sectoral package on both sides of the Atlantic so that the Russians can see it, understand it, and understand its impact if they take further action to prevent these elections from happening.”

In imposing new sanctions the US administration will have to coordinate its actions with the European Union, Nuland added. “Keeping the cats herded is a challenge for the Europeans,” she said.

Russians are “doing everything they can” to disrupt Ukraine's elections. “It seems to me there needs to be a consequence for that up front so that that disruption doesn't continue to take place,” Senator Robert Menendez, the panel's chairman said at the hearing.

Currently over 20 Republican senators co-sponsored a bill seeking to impose tougher sanctions on Russia, in particular on major banks and energy companies.

At the same time – as Kiev continues what it calls an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ against protesters in the East – the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ukraine, Evelyn Farkas, announced the US is sending $18 million of ‘non-lethal’ military aid to Ukraine, adding that Kiev has asked for more assistance.

 A Ukrainian flag flies on a armored military vehicle at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk .(AFP Photo / Sergey Bobok )

In the meantime, Moscow stated that the absence of violence would be one of the criteria by which Russia judges the legitimacy of the presidential election, as well as the upcoming referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk.

“Elections and referendums must be free, fair, and take place in an environment that excludes violence, and be held under objective and impartial international monitoring," Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. "Depending on how all these criteria are met, we will determine our attitude toward events."

For Kiev to de-escalate the conflict, it must cancel the order deploying the army and National Guard against the population of southeast Ukraine, he said.

Following the Crimean referendum on self-determination in March, US President Barack Obama has ordered that sanctions be applied against a number of Russian officials.

At the time, the White House stated that "the actions and policies" of the Russian government with respect to Ukraine "undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine" and "threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity."

Obama’s executive order applies to several top Russian officials, including presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, presidential adviser Sergey Glazyev, State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky, head of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament Valentina Matvienko and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

The latest round of Russia sanctions, announced April 28, show that the Obama administration is willing to target the energy sector. “Russia is already feeling the impact of our measures,” Daniel Glaser, the US Treasury assistant secretary for terrorist financing, told the Congress hearing.