U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says if Russia interferes with Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, the United States will impose more sanctions that he says will have a bigger bite out of the Russian economy.
Meeting in Washington with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Tuesday, Kerry said the U.S. is not going to sit idly by while Russia fans the flames of instability. He said sanctions so far have had a major impact on Russia's struggling economy, and that the U.S. and its allies have only begun.
Ashton called the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine a really important step toward stabilization. She said the Ukrainian people will decide what Ukraine is and what it will be.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Tuesday said the legitimacy of the election is in doubt because of Ukrainian military action in the east against pro-Russian separatists.
Kerry dismissed that and said the right of the Ukrainian people to decide their own future is a universal value respected around the world. He said any more referendums that would split parts of Ukraine to join Russia would be bogus and unrecognized by all civilized nations.
In Ottawa, Canada Tuesday, NATO's top commander, General Philip Breedlove, said NATO may have to permanently station troops in Eastern Europe.
The general said NATO has to look at its responsiveness, readiness and positioning of forces because of the new example shown by what has happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Russian separatists control about a dozen eastern Ukrainian towns and cities, demanding the right to vote on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia. A similar referendum in Crimea in March led to the Russian annexation of the peninsula and the current crisis.
Ukrainian forces are trying to take back the towns. Russia's Foreign Ministry is calling on Ukraine to withdraw its troops from the east and open talks on ways to resolve the political crisis.
Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accuses Russia of seeking to destroy Ukraine by engineering what he says is a "well-planned provocation" against the government.
Russia says the new Ukrainian government is controlled by anti-Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis. It says it has the right to protect Russian speakers.