Pressure mounts for Ukraine sanctions

The U.S. and the European Union are laying the ground work for sanctions on Ukrainian officials following the deaths of at least 25 people during an overnight crackdown on opposition protesters.

The EU has called an emergency meeting of the regional bloc's 28 foreign ministers for Thursday. And President Obama is expected to address the violence in Ukraine today, both in private talks with leaders and in brief public comments, White House officials said.

“Events like what we saw yesterday are clearly going to impact our decision making,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One. “We have made it clear we would consider taking action against individuals who are responsible for acts of violence within Ukraine. We have a toolkit for doing that that includes sanctions.”

The U.S. will coordinate with the EU over what, if any, action will be taken, Rhodes said. If the government of President Viktor Yanukovych pulls back and releases prisoners and pursues dialogue with the opposition, he added, “that would obviously factor into our calculus as well.”

Meanwhile, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said he expects the EU to adopt “targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force,” The Associated Press reports, including visa bans and a freeze on the European assets of Ukrainian leaders.

The move follows weeks of pressure on the EU from the Obama administration to take a stronger stance after Yanukovych's decision to forgo an association agreement with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia. The call resulted in ongoing protests in the capital, Kiev, and across the nation.

A diplomatic call between the top State Department official dealing with Europe and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine that was leaked earlier this month revealed U.S. frustration with the EU's reluctance to get more involved.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFeehery: Oprah Dem presidential bid unlikely Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa Change in Iran will only come from its people — not the United States MORE is expected to reiterate his threat of imposing sanctions in remarks Thursday, just as lower-level U.S. diplomats have in recent days.

“All policy instruments are on the table for the United States at this point,” the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, told CNN on Tuesday. “And we have already ... exercised authorities here to revoke the visas of several officials directly involved in violence. And we've made clear that additional steps will be taken by the United States to the extent there is grave violence against people, demonstrators.

Congress has also put Yanukovych on notice.

“Events in Ukraine now threaten to descend into chaos. That can be avoided only if all sides refrain from violence and make every effort to resolve this crisis peacefully,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday. “The U.S. must continue to strongly support the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future.”

The House passed a resolution from the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), last week that “encourages” the administration to consider “targeted sanctions” against anyone authorizing or engaging in the use of force in Ukraine.

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet:

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill