White House threatens Ukraine sanctions if violence escalates

The White House on Thursday threatened Ukraine with economic sanctions if the government continued violent crackdowns against protesters there.

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"The United States will continue to consider additional steps, including sanctions, in response to the use of violence," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Violent protests in the capital city of Kyiv have erupted in recent days, with protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police vehicles and authorities responding with tear gas and water cannons. 

Critics of President Viktor Yanukovych were incensed after he signed a set of laws placing tight restrictions on protests and prohibiting the wearing of helmets and gas masks.

The new laws come after demonstrators flooded city streets to protest Yanukovych's decision against signing a trade deal with the European Union, instead opting to join a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Critics have accused Yanukovych of cronyism and corruption and demanded the resignation of the government and a new presidential election.

Vice President Biden called Yanukovych on Thursday to take steps to end violence and to address the concerns of peaceful protesters, according to a White House readout. He stressed the need for genuine compromise as the only solution to the crisis. 

Carney also asked both sides to deescalate the situation, while blaming the Ukranian government for failing to recognized the "legitimate" grievances of its people. 

"We condemn the violence taking place in Kiev and continue to urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation and refrain from violence," Carney said.

The White House applauded Yanukovych's decision to meet with opposition leaders, but stopped short of endorsing a call for new elections.

"Political dialogue to address the legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people is the necessary first step towards resolving this crisis," Carney said. "Next, we need to see concrete steps taken by the government."

Carney also sidestepped questions about what specifically would trigger a move toward additional sanctions.

"I wouldn't predict," he said. "I would simply say that we will consider those steps in response to the use of violence."