US warns Russia of ‘mounting costs’ over Ukraine
Moscow brushes off sanctions threat and tells Washington to rein in ‘hotheads’
Pro-Russia protesters sing and dance near a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Marko Djurica
The United States has warned Russia that it faces “mounting costs” if it fails to exert influence over rebels in eastern Ukraine who have seized official buildings and rejected Kiev’s authority.
Washington and the European Union placed financial and travel sanctions on figures close to Russian president Vladimir Putin when he annexed Crimea, and threatened to broaden and intensify the measures if the Kremlin continued to destabilise Ukraine. US secretary of state John Kerry spoke to Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone last night, amid a continued lack of progress in implementing an agreement brokered in Geneva between Ukraine, the US, the EU and Russia.
The deal calls on all illegal armed groups in Ukraine to relinquish weapons and leave occupied buildings, as first steps towards defusing the crisis.
“The secretary urged Russia to take concrete steps to help implement the Geneva agreement,” said state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, as US vice-president Joe Biden began a visit to Kiev.
Travelling with Mr Biden, a senior White House official warned of “mounting costs for Russia if they choose a destabilising rather than constructive course in the days ahead”.
Members of the US senate foreign relations committee have called for sanctions to be imposed on Russia’s banking and energy sectors. Former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole said the US should send weapons, including tanks, to Ukraine.
The Kiev government and its western allies believe Russia is behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine, and has armed agents in the area who have helped seize administrative and security buildings in about 10 towns and cities.
Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe are now trying to assess the situation in the east, and Mr Kerry urged Moscow to co-operate with the mission “to make absolutely clear to the separatists that Russia supports the agreement and wants de-escalation”.
Mr Lavrov said western sanctions “have absolutely no future, because isolating Russia from the rest of the world is impossible”. He asked Mr Kerry to “pressure Kiev to stop hotheads from provoking a bloody conflict”, Russia’s foreign ministry said.
Moscow accused Ukrainian nationalists of killing three people at a rebel checkpoint in eastern Ukraine on Sunday; Kiev blamed Russian agents and their local allies.