Ukraine crisis: Russia threatens to retaliate for new sanctions that jeopardise ceasefire

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko vows to push ahead with the EU trade deal that sparked the crisis last year

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Russia’s leadership today accused the US and EU of jeopardising a fragile ceasefire in Ukraine by implementing more aggressive sanctions against Moscow, while also threatening to retaliate with their own measures should Kiev continue to pursue closer ties with the West.

The escalation of rhetoric comes as Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko vowed to push ahead with the EU trade deal that sparked the crisis last year, also thanking the bloc’s leaders for the new sanctions which he said made Ukraine feel like “a full member of the European family”.

The 28 EU nations on Friday implemented another round of measures targeting Russian individuals, companies and economic sectors after a week of debate over how best to respond to a ceasefire between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine. Large Russian state energy firms including Rosneft and the oil subsidiary of Gazprom have had their access to EU financial markets restricted, while the export of goods and services connected to deep sea oil and shale exploration is now banned.

 

EU nations can also no longer sell Russia technology goods with military uses, while 24 more people are now under assets freezes and travel bans.

Washington unveiled a similar round of sanctions in response to reports that 1,000 Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory this month. They also targeted Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution, restricting its access to US debt and equity.

“Given Russia’s direct military intervention and blatant efforts to destabilise Ukraine, we have deepened our sanctions,” the US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said. Officials said the sanctions could be lifted if Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine and established a buffer zone along the border.

EU leaders have also said sanctions could be suspended at short notice, but Russian President Vladimir Putin was nonplussed, calling the timing “a bit strange”.

“When the situation is moving towards a peaceful resolution, steps are taken which are aimed at disrupting the peace process,” he said.

Russia has denied reports that it is providing support to the separatists, and some EU nations had argued that Moscow should be rewarded, not punished, for backing a week-long ceasefire. Yesterday Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebel forces exchanged 67 prisoners who had been captured during fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Nations in eastern Europe reliant on Russia energy and those in the south with closer business ties also fear the blow-back. Russia has already responded to previous sanctions with bans on EU food and agriculture produce.

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