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Russia PM: Moscow 'ready' to face sanctions

While acknowledging it would be difficult, Russian PM Medvedev said the country 'will be able to minimize the consequences' of sanctions

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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia was ready to face a new round of Western sanctions over Ukraine, saying the country would be able to offset the effects.

"I am sure we will be able to minimize their consequences," he said in a televised speech to parliament.

"The government is ready to act in conditions when the priority of our work becomes protecting the economy and citizens from such unfriendly acts that could follow due to the escalating foreign policy situation."

However, Medvedev did acknowledge minimizing the impact would be difficult; stating the country’s economy was facing an “unprecedented challenge” that included a troubled world economy, diplomatic climate and domestic structural issues.

The prime minister called the sanctions a “road to nowhere.”

Medvedev also alluded to the fact the sanctions could be a positive factor, saying the move may incentivize the creation of a national payment system, maintaining the country would survive in isolation if necessary.

"Any restrictions that are imposed on us are a primitive route. This is a road that leads nowhere, but if a number of our Western partners go along it all the same, we won't have any choice.

"Then we will manage using our own resources and we will win in the final account," he said to applause from lawmakers.

The prime minister, however, did insist on fair access to foreign markets for Russian energy exports, stating that if necessary the country will take legal action with the World Trade Organization as arbitrator.

Biden voices support for Ukraine

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukranian presidential candidates and members of parliament Tuesday that Washington was eager to help the country’s economy and warned of the importance of its upcoming elections.

Saying Ukraine faced humiliating threats and daunting problems, Biden said the United States was ready to assist its leaders in seizing a chance to create national unity.

"The opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right, is within your grasp. And we want to be your partner and friend," he said.

Biden offered U.S. support to hold the May 25 elections, calling them possibly “the most important election in Ukrainian history,” during a meeting at the parliament building.

He also warned leaders that fighting “the cancer of corruption” within the political system would be essential in securing a more stable future.

The vice president also discussed Ukraine’s production of natural gas. Kiev currently relies heavily on the important from Moscow.

While Biden acknowledged energy security can take time, it was within the country’s power to do so.

"Imagine where you'd be today if you were able to tell Russia: keep your gas. It would be a very different world," he said.

Biden's visit to Ukraine follows the signing in Geneva last Thursday of a four-way peace deal to de-escalate tension in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have seized towns and key facilities.

U.S. discusses sanction possibilities

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki discussed on Monday the range of sanctions to be implemented on Russian officials.

In a Twitter interview, Psaki was asked whether the United States was considering the possibility of hitting Russian President Vladimir Putin personally with sanctions, Psaki replied: “Range of officials under consideration. Plenty to sanction before we would discuss President #Putin.”

Earlier, in response to a question over whether the prospect of imposing sanctions on individuals, companies and business sectors was effective, Psaki replied: “Yes. Impt (important) to lay out consequences. U.S. able to sanction people, companies, and sectors. Goal not sanctions. Goal de-escalation.”

In a telephone call with his Russian counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the agreement reached in Geneva last week, Psaki said.

The steps include publicly calling on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to vacate occupied buildings and checkpoints, accept an amnesty and address their grievances politically, Psaki added

“If they don’t take steps in the coming days, there’ll be consequences,” she said. “Obviously, we would have to make a decision in the matter of - in a matter of days - if there are going to be consequences for inaction.”

The Geneva agreement calls for occupied buildings to be vacated under the auspices of envoys from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Psaki said there are a series of steps outlined in the agreement “and that’s what we’re looking for.”

“If there’s no progress, we remain prepared, along with our European and G-7 partners, to impose additional costs. So there’ll need to be decisions made in a matter of days,” she added.

(With Reuters)