Kerry warns Russia over Crimea referendum

The U.S. Secretary of State warned of a “serious series of steps” in response to the potential referendum for Ukarine's Crimea to join the Russian federation

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United States Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Monday of a “serious series of steps” against Russia if the referendum on Ukraine’s Crimea goes as planned.

He remarked the backlash would come from the United States in addition to Europe.

Pro-Moscow authorities in Crimea on Thursday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to examine a request for their region to join the Russian Federation, which will be put to a referendum on March 16, Agence France-Presse reported.

“The parliament of Crimea has adopted a motion for Crimea to join Russia. It has asked the Russian president and parliament to consider this request,” a member of the parliament’s leadership, Grigoriy Ioffe, told AFP.

The parliament in Crimea, which enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78 with eight abstentions in favor of holding the referendum, the Associated Press reported. Local voters will also be given the choice of deciding to remain part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.

There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian central government to the vote. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s prime minister told The Associated Press that Crimea would remain part of Ukraine.

Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of Russia’s house of parliament, said Friday that Crimea would be welcome as an equal part of Russia if the region votes to leave Ukraine in an upcoming referendum, the Associated Press reported.

Threatening sanctions

European leaders, including France and Germany, warned Russia of potential sanctions over its military intervention in Ukraine following Moscow's dismissal of Western backed diplomatic efforts to persuade it to pull out of Crimea.

The United States has said it is ready to impose sanctions such as visa bans, asset freezes on individual Russian officials and restrictions on business ties within days rather than weeks.

Russia’s rouble currency weakened further on Thursday despite central bank intervention due to what analysts at VTB Capital called the political risk premium.

On Friday, France’s foreign minister said that if a first round of sanctions did not succeed against Russia in the wake of its military intervention in Ukraine, a second could follow, targeting Russian businesses and people close to President Vladimir Putin.

“If there are not very swift results, there will be new measures aimed at those responsible and Russian businesses,” Reuters quoted Laurent Fabius as telling France Info radio.

“It could be freezing assets, it could be cancellations, it could be refusing visas,” he added, without elaborating.

Russia bites back

Meanwhile, Russia heightened its tone on Friday when it vowed retaliation if sanctions were imposed after France threatened a second round of embargoes if Moscow doesn’t stop its intervention in Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry accused the European Union of taking an “extremely unconstructive position” by freezing talks on easing visa barriers that complicate travel between Russia and the EU over Ukraine.

The ministry’s statement added: “Russia will not accept the language of sanctions and threats” and will retaliate if sanctions are imposed.