The United States has denounced upcoming Russian parliamentary elections planned for the Crimean peninsula, saying it "does not recognize the legitimacy" of the process.
"The United States does not recognize the legitimacy, and will not recognize the outcome, of the Russian Duma elections planned for Russian-occupied Crimea on September 18th," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement issued on Friday.
Two-and-a-half years after the reunification of Crimea with the Russian mainland, residents of the peninsula are getting ready to vote on Sunday in their first elections to elect members of Duma, Russia's national parliament.
"Our position on Crimea is clear: the peninsula remains an integral part of Ukraine. Crimea-related sanctions against Russia will remain until Russia returns control of Crimea to Ukraine,” Kirby said.
Earlier this month, the United States expanded sanctions against Russia over its support for anti-Kiev fighters in Ukraine and the Crimean reunification with Russia.
In an updated sanctions blacklist issued on September 1, the US Department of the Treasury targeted companies building a multi-billion dollar bridge to link Russia with Crimea, and also added dozens of people and companies to the list. Those blacklisted include dozens of Russian companies and up to 37 individuals.
The Treasury pointed out seven companies which it said are directly involved in the construction of the 19 km (11.8 miles) road-and-rail connection across the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
The Treasury also named several subsidiaries of Russian gas giant Gazprom and 11 Crimean officials.
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014, and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum in which 96.8 percent of participants voted in favor of the secession.
Since then, the US and some other Western countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia over accusations that Moscow has been involved in a deadly crisis in Ukraine, which broke out when Kiev launched military operations to crack down on pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine last year. Russia has denied the allegation.
In Ukraine, the violence intensified in April 2014, after Kiev deployed troops to the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to suppress pro-Russians. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict.