Ukraine crisis: West threatens more aggressive sanctions against Putin’s regime

Brussels

Western powers agreed on Friday that Russia’s refusal to end its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine and to respect a recent peace accord would be grounds for more aggressive sanctions against Moscow.

The US President, Barack Obama, and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, have been complaining for days that Vladimir Putin’s regime is not adhering to a deal agreed in Geneva on 17 April, which demanded that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine lay down their weapons and leave occupied buildings.

They say the Kremlin is orchestrating the unrest in a repeat of actions that ended with the annexation of Crimea last month, and want Russia to call publicly for an end to the occupations. But Moscow sees it differently and yesterday the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said it was the West that was distorting the accord with “one-sided demands”.

In a sign that patience in Washington was wearing thin, Mr Kerry warned Russia that “the window to change course is closing”. Determined to push reluctant EU allies on sanctions, Mr Obama then held a conference call with David Cameron, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French President François Hollande, and Italy’s Matteo Renzi. The White House said the leaders agreed that Russia had “continued to escalate the situation through its increasingly concerning rhetoric and threatening military exercises on Ukraine’s border”. It added that they would now work closely together to develop additional sanctions but stressed that Russia “could still choose a peaceful resolution to the crisis”.

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said the five leaders “agreed that in the light of Russia’s refusal to support the process, an extension of the current targeted sanctions would need to be implemented”.

Whether the EU’s 24 other members states agree with this assessment is not yet clear, with many nations unenthusiastic about broad sanctions hitting Russian economic sectors such as energy, financial services and arms, fearing the economic consequences.

Ms Merkel said EU foreign ministers could meet soon to discuss further measures should Russia make no further efforts to de-escalate tensions. But she made clear she was talking about expanding the list of individuals and companies under limited sanctions, rather then a move to the next stage of deeper sanctions.

So far, the EU has imposed asset-freezes and travel bans on 33 Russian and Ukrainian individuals linked to the annexation of Crimea. The US has taken similar steps, but has been vocal in threatening more serious and wide-ranging measures.

European Commission officials are putting together proposals for further sanctions and an assessment of their domestic impact.

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