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Russia says EU sanctions will hurt Ukraine peace efforts

A bodyguard hold his weapon during a rally to mark and celebrate the announcement of the results of the referendum on the status of Luhansk
A bodyguard hold his weapon during a rally to mark and celebrate the announcement of the results of the referendum on the status of Luhansk

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Tuesday new European Union sanctions will hinder efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine and urged the West to persuade Kiev to hold discussions on the country's future structure before a May 25 presidential election.

The results of self-rule referendums in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk "should be a clear signal to Kiev of the depth of the crisis" in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Kremlin has stopped short of endorsing independence for the regions or their absorption into Russia but has said the referendums underscore the need for talks between the pro-Western government and separatists from the east.

"Moscow hopes ... the EU and United States will use their influence on the current leadership in Kiev so that issues of state structure and respect for the rights of regions are discussed soon - in any case before the election scheduled for May 25," it said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested the Ukrainian election, which the government hopes will increase its legitimacy and control, will not be legitimate if people in the east are not confident their rights will be protected.

The EU imposed sanctions on two Crimean companies and 13 people on Monday in response to Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine and its support for Russian-speaking separatists.

The EU had already imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 48 Russians and Ukrainians, and the United States has also imposed sanctions during the worst crisis in relations between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the EU envoy to Russia on Tuesday that the EU sanctions were a "exhausted, trite approach ... that will not only not resolve but will deepen differences, hindering the joint search for a way out of the real crisis situation in Ukraine," the Foreign Ministry said.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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