White House issues new warnings as Russia gathers troops near Ukraine

The White House said Thursday that it will definitely impose sanctions against Russia if Moscow “continues down the path that it is currently on” in Ukraine.

“I don't want to limit the actions we may take, but certainly sanctions would be part of the action," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

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The posturing from the White House also came amid reports Russia was gathering thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine as part of military exercises planned over the next two weeks.

The move was seen as a deliberate demonstration of Moscow's military strength ahead of the Crimea vote.

It also follows U.S. military drills announced earlier this week that the White House suggested were intended to signal displeasure with the Russian incursion. A U.S. Navy destroyer plans to take part in military exercises with Romanian and Bulgarian warships in the Black Sea, and in Poland, U.S. fighter jets were set to participate in joint exercises.

Carney said the White House was monitoring the Russian military movements “closely” but said he did not have a “specific” reaction to the drills.

“Our concern obviously is focused on the need to de-escalate, and any escalation would result in additional costs,” Carney said.

Earlier this month, the president signed an executive order allowing the government to impose economic penalties against “individuals and entities” deemed responsible for the Russian incursion into the Crimean peninsula in Eastern Ukraine. The State Department also announced a visa ban against certain individuals that has already been put into place.

But so far, the White House appears to have stopped short of freezing the assets or blocking business deals with specific Russians, in hopes it can convince Moscow to pull back its military forces. Washington is also hoping to convince the Kremlin to distance itself from a secession referendum planned by local pro-Russia leaders in Crimea for Sunday.

On Thursday, Carney said that the administration was working actively “to identify targets of potential sanctions.”

“There will be additional costs if Russia chooses not to work with the international community to resolve these issues in a manner that's consistent with international law and that respects Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Carney warned.

Earlier Thursday in testimony to Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the U.S. and Europe could move to impose sanctions on Russia on Monday if Moscow recognized the results of the referendum.

“There will be a response of some kind to the referendum itself,” Kerry said. “If there is no sign [from the Kremlin] of any capacity to respond to this issue ... there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday.”

President Obama on Wednesday in a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also warned Russia would pay a cost if it did not shift its behavior.

“There’s another path available and we hope [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is willing to seize that path,” he said. “But if he does not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand firmly behind the Ukrainian government.”

Kerry on Friday will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in London. The two spoke briefly by phone on Thursday, with Kerry providing an update on the Obama-Yetsenyuk meeting and repeating the warning that Russia would face costs if it continues to escalate the situation. 

This story was updated at 4:28 p.m.