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EU sanctions people linked to Ukraine unrest

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, right, and Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, during the EU foreign ministers council at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 17, 2014. British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he is confident that the European Union will ratchet up pressure on Russia over its role in the breakaway of Ukraine’s Crimea region by imposing sanctions on people linked to the secession of the peninsula. The 28-nation EU condemned the Crimea referendum which overwhelmingly backed a return to Russia, and the EU foreign ministers were assessing on Monday who to target for asset freezes and travel bans. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, right, and Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, during the EU foreign ministers council at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 17, 2014. British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he is confident that the European Union will ratchet up pressure on Russia over its role in the breakaway of Ukraine’s Crimea region by imposing sanctions on people linked to the secession of the peninsula. The 28-nation EU condemned the Crimea referendum which overwhelmingly backed a return to Russia, and the EU foreign ministers were assessing on Monday who to target for asset freezes and travel bans. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, center, listens to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, right, and Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, left, during the EU foreign ministers council at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 17, 2014. British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he is confident that the European Union will ratchet up pressure on Russia over its role in the breakaway of Ukraine’s Crimea region by imposing sanctions on people linked to the secession of the peninsula. The 28-nation EU condemned the Crimea referendum which overwhelmingly backed a return to Russia, and the EU foreign ministers were assessing on Monday who to target for asset freezes and travel bans. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

EU foreign ministers talk to each other prior to the start of the EU foreign ministers council at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 17, 2014. British Foreign Secretary William Hague says he is confident that the European Union will ratchet up pressure on Russia over its role in the breakaway of Ukraine’s Crimea region by imposing sanctions on people linked to the secession of the peninsula. The 28-nation EU condemned the Crimea referendum which overwhelmingly backed a return to Russia, and the EU foreign ministers were assessing on Monday who to target for asset freezes and travel bans. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

Pro-Russian people celebrate in the central square in Sevastopol, Ukraine, late Sunday, March 16, 2014. Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States and Europe condemned the ballot as illegal and destabilizing and were expected to slap sanctions against Russia for it.(AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

Pro-Russian people celebrate in Lenin Square, in Simferopol, Ukraine, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Fireworks exploded and Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States and Europe condemned the ballot as illegal and destabilizing and were expected to slap sanctions against Russia for it. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers slapped travel bans and asset freezes Monday on 21 people from Russia and Crimea who they linked to the push for the secession of Ukraine’s strategic Black Sea peninsula.

The sanctions came hours after Crimea’s parliament declared the region an independent state, following its residents’ overwhelming vote Sunday to break away from Ukraine and seek to join Russia.

The ministers meeting in Brussels did not immediately release the names of those targeted by the sanctions.

Two diplomats said the sanctions targeted 13 Russians and eight people from Crimea. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the breakdown of the nationalities had not been officially announced.

The 28-nation EU and the United States say Sunday’s Crimean referendum was illegitimate and unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that the vote “would never be recognized” by the United States, as he and other top U.S. officials warned Moscow against making further military moves toward southern and eastern Ukraine.

The EU is walking a tightrope between punishing Moscow and keeping open lines of communication with Russia for a diplomatic resolution of one of the worst geopolitical crises in years on its eastern doorstep.

Before Monday’s meeting in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said sanctions must leave “ways and possibilities open to prevent a further escalation that could lead to the division of Europe.”

The EU has already suspended talks with Russia on a wide-ranging economic pact and a visa agreement. The bloc’s leaders are meeting Thursday and Friday and could start slapping economic sanctions on Russia this weekend if Moscow does not back down.

Western allies are calling on Putin to “de-escalate” the crisis, support Ukrainian plans for political reform, return Russian troops in Crimea to their barracks and halt advances into Ukraine and military buildups along its borders.

Ukraine’s new government in Kiev called Sunday’s referendum a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow. Putin, however, insisted it was conducted in “full accordance with international law and the U.N. charter” and cited Kosovo’s independence from Serbia as its precedent.

Associated Press

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