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West warns Russia

Brussels/Slaviansk, Ukraine, June 25 (Reuters): Western powers warned Russia today that they could impose new sanctions if it did not do more to defuse the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where a ceasefire between Russian-speaking rebels and government forces appeared to be crumbling.

The upper house of Russia’s parliament fulfilled a request by President Vladimir Putin to rescind the right to invade Ukraine in defence of its Russian speakers that it had granted him in March.

However, a leading lawmaker said the power could be quickly restored if required, and western governments indicated they would judge Russia by the progress that was made in ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after a bilateral ceasefire was agreed, rebels shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing all nine on board. This prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to tell his troops to return fire if attacked.

A Ukrainian spokesman said the rebels had violated the ceasefire 44 times since Monday.

Moscow denies western accusations that it has allowed fighters to cross into Ukraine along with heavy weapons to confront government forces, and that it is keeping its own troops close to the border to put pressure on Kiev.

But during a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels, secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “I regret to say that we see no signs that Russia is respecting its international commitments.”

US secretary of state John Kerry said Washington was working with its EU partners, who hold a summit in Brussels at the end of this week, to prepare a new round of sanctions against Russia in case they are necessary.

Not all EU leaders back the idea, but British foreign secretary William Hague said that if Russia did not “stop the flow of arms across the border (and) stop supporting illegally armed separatist groups”, the case for tougher sanctions “will of course become stronger”. The US and EU imposed asset freezes and travel bans on Russian and Ukrainian individuals following Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March.

 
 
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