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EU foreign ministers expand sanctions on Russia, diplomats say

Diplomats say European Union foreign ministers have added two companies and some dozen individuals to the bloc's sanctions list against Russia over its annexation of Crimea. But tougher action could follow.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday added to sanctions they have already imposed on Russia after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March.

They slapped sanctions on two Crimean companies and 13 people in addition to the 48 Russians and Ukrainians already targeted with EU asset freezes and visa bans, diplomats said.

The bloc, along with the United States, has warned that it will take tougher action targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy if Moscow tries to derail Ukraine's May 25 presidential vote.

Ukraine trip

Going into the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured l. above with British counterpart William Hague) told reporters that Sunday's referendum on self-rule held in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists was "illegal."

"We cannot, and must not, take it seriously," he said.

Steinmeier is to travel to Ukraine on Tuesday to assist in mediation efforts between the government and the separatists, who see their aspirations to strengthen links with Moscow vindicated by the results of balloting.

Steinmeier "intends to travel to Ukraine tomorrow. He'll hold talks in Kyiv, among other things, with representatives of the Ukrainian government," his spokesman told reporters on Monday.

He also plans to travel to the east of the country, the spokesman added.

Unmonitored balloting

The Ukrainian government, the EU, the US and many other countries have rejected the referendum result, which allegedly showed a huge majority in favor of sovereignty in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

No international monitors were present during the vote, making it impossible to independently verify the outcome.

Moscow has said it "respects the will of the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions," but has made it clear it does not currently intend to annex Ukraine's eastern provinces.

tj/se (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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