A Ukrainian officer on guard on the road between Donetsk and Slaviansk. (AFP)
Moscow/Kiev, April 25 (Reuters): President Barack Obama will press European allies to impose more sanctions if Russia steps up action in Ukraine, while a cut in its credit rating sent a strong reminder to Moscow of the economic consequences of its involvement in the crisis.
Obama said he would seek to make sure key European leaders shared his view that Russia had failed to live up to the terms of a Ukraine peace accord in Geneva earlier this month, under which Russia, the US, Ukraine and the EU agreed to work to disarm illegal groups.
The Ukraine government launched further military operations against some of the pro-Russian separatists who have seized government buildings across eastern Ukraine, having killed up to five rebels yesterday.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accused authorities in Kiev of waging “war on their own people”.
“This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice,” Lavrov said.
Russia is also paying for the dispute, with heavy capital flight prompting credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s to cut the country’s ratings today. That in turn forced Russia’s central bank to raise its key interest rate to reverse a drop in the rouble.
Lavrov said Moscow was committed to implementing the Geneva agreement but accused Washington of distorting it with “one-sided demands”. However, Russia’s defence ministry said it was ready for “unbiased and constructive” talks with the US to stabilise the situation.
Obama, who accuses Moscow of sending agents to coordinate the unrest in the east, as it did before seizing Ukraine’s Crimea region in February, is planning to call allies in Europe later in the day.
“The window to change course is closing,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia late yesterday, citing Obama’s earlier comments that Washington was ready to impose new sanctions, on top of those imposed after Crimea was annexed.
Kerry said Russia was using propaganda to hide what it was trying to do in eastern Ukraine — destabilise the region and undermine next month’s Ukrainian presidential elections — and decried its “threatening movement” of troops up to Ukraine’s border.
“If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake,” Kerry said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has scoffed at the sanctions so far imposed, which have been limited to travel bans and overseas assets freezes on individuals.