U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague say the United States and European Union will hit Russia with far tougher economic sanctions if it tries to disrupt next week's presidential election in Ukraine. Kerry and Hague discussed the crisis in Ukraine Thursday in London with foreign ministers from France, Italy, and Germany.
Foreign Secretary Hague says the European Union and United States are preparing broader, sectoral sanctions against Russia if it interferes with May 25 voting to choose a new government in Kyiv.
"Russia's behavior towards the elections will determine whether or not wider economic and trade sanctions will be applied," he said.
Pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings across eastern Ukraine, declaring sovereignty in two regions and rejecting plans for next week's presidential vote. Hague says disrupting that vote can take many different forms, so actions that Russia might be punished for cannot be defined in advance.
"We can't give and wouldn't want to give an exact definition of that," he said. "If we set a red line, Russia knows that they can go up to that red line without those sanctions."
Secretary Kerry says the U.S. and European Union message to Moscow is simple:
"Let Ukraine vote. Let the Ukrainian people choose their future," he said. "And let them do so in a fair, open, free, accessible, election."
Kerry says he hopes to avoid tougher sanctions and gain Russia's help in de- escalating the crisis.
"Our hope is that Russia will join in to encourage the vote, that Russia will encourage pro-Russian separatists to say that they should work through the process that has now been opened up - that Russia has helped insist on - so that process can now be given a chance to work," he said.
Ukraine launched national unity talks Wednesday without the participation of pro-Russian separatists. Kerry says the process is part of "serious, concrete plans" for increased autonomy and decentralization.
Russia says it fears for the rights of Russian-speakers in eastern provinces of Ukraine. Kerry told reporters in London that the level of self-governance being offered by Kyiv "far exceeds any level of autonomy or decentralization that exists anywhere in Russia.