WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Friday unveiled sanctions against six of Crimea's breakaway leaders, including the official who signed the deal with Moscow to split the peninsula from Ukraine.
US officials have been warning for days that more sanctions against individuals and companies were in the works, as it calls on Moscow to deescalate tensions and withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine's eastern border in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
A first wave of US sanctions unveiled in March notably blacklisted officials and businesspeople close to Russian President Vladimir Putin to protest Moscow's takeover of Crimea.
The new Treasury sanctions targeted the former vice speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Sergei Tsekov, who helped pave the way towards the March referendum in Crimea which led to its annexation by Russia and was branded "illegal" by the West.
Tsekov now serves as Crimea's representative in the Russian parliament.
The US Treasury also blacklisted Chernomorneftegaz, a gas company whose assets were seized by the Crimean parliament and are now managed by Moscow.
"Crimea is occupied territory. We will continue to impose costs on those involved in ongoing violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen.
The seven individuals targeted by the US have already been placed on EU sanctions lists.
News of the fresh American sanctions came as it was announced that four-way talks between the US, EU, Ukraine and Russia on the crisis would be held in Geneva on April 17.
Also targeted in the latest sanctions - which freeze the US-based assets of all listed persons - was Aleksei Chaliy, the mayor of Sevastopol, who signed the deal on March 16 to unite Crimea with Russia.
He was joined by Crimea's deputy prime minister Rustam Temirgaliev, and Yuriy Zherebtsov, said to be among the main organizers of the referendum.
Electoral officials Mikhail Malyshev and Valery Medvedev were also targeted for administering the vote, which has been denounced by the US and its European allies.
The former head of the Ukrainian security services, Pyotr Zima, who was dismissed after swearing an oath of loyalty to the new Crimean authorities, was also placed on the list. He is now the head of the Crimean security services.
The Crimea-based gas company Chernomorneftegaz was listed "because it is complicit in the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine or of an economically significant entity in Ukraine," the Treasury said in a statement.
US President Barack Obama told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday that the United States and its allies should prepare new sanctions against Russia if it escalates the crisis over Ukraine.
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, "apparently with support from Moscow, continue an orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian state," the White House said in a statement.