WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told his Russian counterpart on Thursday that Russia could face tougher economic sanctions because of its actions in Ukraine.
The U.S. Treasury said that Lew warned Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov that the United States is prepared to impose "additional significant sanctions" if Russia escalates the Ukraine situation. Treasury said in a statement that Lew described Russia's annexation of Crimea as "illegal and illegitimate."
Lew's discussions with Siluanov came in advance of meetings Thursday of finance officials from the Group of Seven major industrial countries and the Group of 20 nations, which includes the G-7 countries and emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India.
Russia is a member of the G-20 but not the G-7. The G-7 nations are the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Italy.
Last month, President Barack Obama met with other G-7 leaders and the group confirmed that it was indefinitely suspending cooperation with Russia, which for more than a decade had joined with the G-7 countries to form the Group of Eight nations. That larger group was to hold a summit later this year in Sochi, Russia. But the G-7 nations have said they will boycott that meeting.
It was unclear how much support the United States would receive from other countries to strengthen the sanctions imposed on Russia.
After the G-7 talks, the group issued a joint statement that confirmed that the situation in Ukraine had been discussed, including the country's financing needs, but the statement did not indicate that the group had endorsed tougher sanctions.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told reporters before the discussions that France preferred to focus on the economic support being provided to Ukraine. That effort is being led by the International Monetary Fund, which says it will provide up to $18 billion in loan guarantees to Kiev to help the country get its economy moving again.
"The question is not to talk about sanctions. The question is to get started ... as quickly as possible" working to get the IMF's support program implemented.
The U.S. delegation to the G-7 and G-20 talks was led by Lew and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
A G-20 dinner Thursday night included a tribute to former Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who died earlier in the day. Flaherty, who took the Cabinet position in 2006, was the longest-serving G-7 finance minister before he announced three weeks ago that he was stepping down. A friend said he had died of a massive heart attack.
Australian Treasury Minister Joe Hockey, the current chair of the G-20, told the group, "Canada is poorer for his passing and we are all poorer."
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