Ukraine crisis: Russia says sanctions imposed by ‘weak politicians’ won’t solve the situation
Lavrov hits out as EU and US unveil new punitive measures against Putin, and trouble flares in Luhansk
Even as the European Union joined the United States in unveiling additional punitive sanctions on Russia for failing to honour an agreement to lower tensions in eastern Ukraine, the US Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, warned that Washington would take further steps if Moscow does not quickly show a change in policy.
The latest EU measures, which add 15 new names to a list of Russia and Ukrainian individuals identified for both financial and visa strictures, came on top of those announced by Washington on Monday. The stepping up of pressure by the West drew a withering response from the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.
“We reject sanctions in any of our relationships, in particular those sanctions that were sponsored by the United States and the European Union, which defy all common sense, regarding the events in Ukraine,” he said during a visit to Cuba. “The attempt to blame others is the result of weak politicians or rather of those politicians who understand that their geopolitical ambitions have failed, and they are attempting to blame others.”
The situation on the ground deteriorated as pro-Russia protesters stormed and seized control of the central government building in the large city of Luhansk. There were also reports the protesters had taken hold of a television station and the city’s prosecutor’s office. The fresh violence led acting Ukraine President Oleksander Turchynov to demand the resignation of the police chiefs of both Luhansk and the city of Donetsk.
Questioned at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Mr Lew confirmed that additional rounds of US sanctions could extend deeper into Russia’s banking and energy sectors. “We need to continue to keep our options open. We are prepared to take more action and we’ve made clear that we’re prepared to take more action if the policy of Russia doesn’t change,” he said. The Obama administration is facing criticism that its steps so far have been too timid.
But Mr Lew insisted measures imposed by the US and the EU were starting to take a toll. “You have to look over the period of time Russia went into Crimea, since we’ve imposed sanctions, there has been a quite substantial deterioration in Russia’s already weak economy,” he commented. “We see it in their stock exchange, we see it in their exchange rate, we see it in a number of important economic indicators.”
The West contends that Moscow has done nothing to implement an accord reached this month in Geneva that called on all sides to reduce tensions. “I call on Russia to take now concrete action in support of the Geneva accord,” Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said.
The new EU measures are even narrower than those implemented by Washington so far, reflecting ambivalence in some of member states about going too far in alienating Moscow. They bring to 48 the number of Russian or pro-Russian individuals in Ukraine targeted for measures that will freeze any assets held in EU member countries and ban their travel to any of the 28 EU member states.
New names added included General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff and First Deputy Defence Minister, and Lt Gen Igor Sergun, who is the head of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.
The expanded sanctions unveiled by Washington on Monday focused in part on four billionaires close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and their holdings. They included 17 banks, energy companies, investment accounts and other entities controlled by the men. Also hit were two advisers to Mr Putin, Igor Sechin, president of the Rosneft oil company, and Sergei Chemezov, director of Rostec, a state company overseeing the tech sector.
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