New Russia sanctions threats as Ukraine stalemate goes on

DONETSK (UKRAINE) (TIP): A day after an international deal in Geneva to defuse the East-West crisis in Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists vowed not to end their occupation of public buildings and Washington threatened further sanctions on Moscow if the stalemate continued.

Leaders of gunmen who have taken over city halls and other sites in and around Donetsk this month in pursuit of demands for a Crimea-style referendum on union with Russia, rejected the agreement struck in Geneva by Ukraine, Russia, the United States and European Union and demanded on Friday that the leaders of the Kiev uprising must first quit their own government offices. Moscow renewed its insistence that it has no control over the “little green men” who, as before Russia annexed Crimea last month, appeared in combat gear and with automatic weapons to seize public buildings – a denial that Western allies of those who overthrew the pro-Russian president in Kiev do not accept.

The White House renewed President Barack Obama’s demands that the Kremlin use what Washington believes is its influence over the separatists to get them to vacate the premises. It warned of heavier economic sanctions than those already imposed over Crimea if Moscow failed to uphold the Geneva deal – or if it moved to send troops massed on the border into Ukraine. “We believe that Russia has considerable influence over the actions of those who have been engaged in destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine,” national security adviser Susan Rice said.

“If we don’t see action commensurate with the commitments that Russia has made yesterday in Geneva … then obviously we’ve been very clear that we and our European partners remain ready to impose additional costs on Russia. “Those costs and sanctions could include targeting very significant sectors of the Russian economy.” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman hit back, while voicing scepticism – of a kind also heard from the Ukrainian government – about how useful the cautiously worded Geneva pact would be.

“You can’t treat Russia like a guilty schoolboy,” said Dmitry Peskov. “That kind of language is unacceptable.” The Russian foreign ministry said: “The Americans are once again stubbornly trying to whitewash the actions of the Kiev authorities, who have embarked on a course of violently suppressing protesters in the southeast who are expressing their legitimate indignation over the infringements of their rights.”

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Ukraine’s interim government, in power since pro-Western protests forced President Viktor Yanukovich to flee to Russia two months ago, was at pains to show it was keeping its part of the bargain. Its ill-equipped security forces have shown little sign of being able to regain control in the east by force. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, though admitting he was not overly optimistic about the agreement solving what has become the gravest East-West crisis since the Cold War, said militants would be offered an amnesty. And he and the acting president made a formal joint broadcast pledging constitutional reform to devolve power to the regions and bolster the status of Russian as an official language in areas where it was widely spoken.

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