West to step up response to Russia’s ‘violation’ of Ukraine
European Union leaders are expected to move towards deeper economic sanctions against Moscow today, acting on mounting evidence of what the Nato chief has called a “blatant violation” of Ukrainian territory by Russian soldiers.
The UK will argue that Russia should be excluded from the Swift international banking system which will further disrupt Russian trade, a British official said.
Some EU politicians openly accused Russia of invading its neighbour, after Nato on Thursday released satellite imagery to back up claims that around 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and providing support to separatist rebels fighting to create a breakaway state in the east.
“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border into eastern and south-eastern Ukraine,” the Nato Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said after an emergency meeting of the alliance yesterday. “Russian forces are engaged in direct military operations inside Ukraine.”
He said the Kremlin was also still providing tanks, artillery and rocket launchers to separatist forces. “Moreover, Russia continues to maintain thousands of combat-ready troops close to Ukraine’s border: this is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Russia has denied the claims, and yesterday President Vladimir Putin compared a Ukrainian government offensive to seize back rebel-held territory to “the events of the Second World War, when German fascists... surrounded our cities”.
Since April, the pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops have been locked in battle over key cities across the eastern industrial heartland. A UN report yesterday estimated that nearly 2,600 people had been killed. Fighting escalated this week when separatist forces opened a new front in the eastern town of Novoazovsk.
Officials in Kiev said yesterday 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in fresh fighting. The Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said the country was planning to end its non-aligned status and apply for membership of Nato.
Any such move would further antagonise Russia, which is desperate to maintain its influence in the former Soviet bloc. But Mr Rasmussen said Nato would respect the decision by the Ukrainian parliament should it decide to move towards full membership.
The military alliance is also expected to announce plans for a rapid reaction force to assist its current members at its summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday, part of Nato’s beefed- up response to Russia’s recent aggression on Europe’s borders. Mr Rasmussen’s comments came a day ahead of a meeting of EU heads of government in Brussels, with Ukraine high on the agenda. In July, the 28 member states overcame considerable internal splits and imposed some sanctions on Russia’s defence and energy industries. The US took similar measures, while dozens of Ukrainians and Russians are also under travel bans and assets freezes.
However, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, conceded that those sanctions have had little impact on Mr Putin. David Cameron is expected to go into the EU meeting today pushing for even harsher measures targeting the energy, defence and financial sectors.
The Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, said “we must call a spade a spade” and said the Russian actions over the past few days represented “the second Russian invasion of Ukraine within a year”. In March, Russian troops entered and annexed Crimea.
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