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U.S. says new Russia sanctions unlikely before Thursday

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it anticipates more Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia but suggested no action was likely before a diplomatic meeting in Geneva this week.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine last month and the United States accuses Moscow of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian military forces are seeking to regain control of sites seized by pro-Russian separatists over the weekend.

Ukraine's military moves, which the White House endorsed as a measured effort to restore law and order, appeared to mark an escalation of the deepest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

The standoff has raised fears in the West and in Kiev that Russia might intervene militarily on behalf of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.

Russian, Ukrainian, U.S. and EU foreign ministers are due to gather in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the crisis, triggered by the February overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, after weeks of protests.

"Thursday is the next opportunity to have a diplomatic discussion and I think it's safe to lean into the unlikelihood of making (sanctions) announcements before Thursday," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.

A new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia is likely to target influential people or companies in sectors such as energy, engineering and financial services, as spelled out in an executive order issued by President Barack Obama last month.

"They're all on the table," Psaki said.

However, the new sanctions are not expected to hit industrial sectors as a whole, diplomats said.

One Western diplomat said European nations including Germany are reluctant to impose sanctions targeting entire sectors absent an outright Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Among other factors, there are fears that wide-ranging sanctions could hurt vulnerable European economies.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said such sectoral sanctions could range, at the low end, from limiting technology transfers to Russia, to curbs on military sales, up to much more dramatic sanctions to squeeze its energy exports.

The United States has imposed three rounds of sanctions as a result of the unrest in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea, though it has so far shied away from sectoral sanctions.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mohammad Zargham)

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