NATO, EU mulls more Russia sanctions after alleged Ukraine incursions

DPA Brussels/Kiev | Updated on March 12, 2018

Western leaders are to mull further steps against Russia in the coming days including sanctions, after satellite images backed up NATO’s allegation that Russian combat forces are engaging in military operations in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s “alarming” situation will be the focus of an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers Friday in Milan, said Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

“The images, captured in late August, depict Russian self—propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action ... in the area of Krasnodon,” NATO said.

NATO estimated that more than 1,000 Russian solders were fighting among pro—Russian separatists, while insurgents conceded the number to be up to 4,000.

The pictures, sourced from an independent firm named Digital Globe, are “only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall scope of Russian troop and weapons movements,” the alliance said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the increasing Russian presence a military invasion and cancelled plans to attend the inauguration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He met with his security council and called on Ukrainians to remain calm and united: “We are capable of protecting ourselves.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said tougher sanctions against Russia would be considered on Sunday at an EU summit.

In a phone conference, Merkel and US President Barack Obama agreed “that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine” and on the need for added sanctions, Obama said. They reaffirmed intentions to work for a diplomatic solution.

Obama said the current sanctions have already made Russia “more isolated than at any time since the end of the Cold War” with capital flight and a shrinking economy.

Answering a reporter’s question in Washington, Obama declared that US “military action” in Ukraine — or a US—Russia “military confrontation” — was “not in the cards.” But he warned that his visit to Estonia ahead of the NATO summit next week in Britain will let alliance members large and small “know that we mean what we say with respect to our treaty obligations.” “Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but a number of those states that are close by are,” he said.

Poroshenko is to visit Obama next month in Washington.

The Ukrainian military said it had largely lost control of cities in the country’s south—eastern border region, where Washington has said that Moscow has opened a second front in the conflict with rebels advancing toward Mariupol, a key port city near the Russian border.

“As separatists have become under pressure, we have seen a real upsurge of Russian activities,” said Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of NATO’s crisis centre in Mons, Belgium.

He said Russian combat troops “equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry” were operating inside Ukraine, with “large quantities of advanced weapons” being transferred to the pro—Russian separatists.

Russian involvement is becoming “more and more overt,” Tak said, calling the allegation of 1,000 Russian soldiers a conservative estimate.

An estimated 20,000 Russian troops are stationed in the border region, which he called an “offensive army.” The insurgents insisted that the 3,000 to 4,000 Russians fighting alongside them were volunteers including regular soldiers on vacation.

“We have never made a secret of the fact that there are many Russians among us,” separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko told Russian TV.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, the United States, Lithuania, Britain, France and others called for Russia to immediately withdraw its military deployment in Ukraine.

Russia’s representative insisted Ukraine was to blame and urged the council to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Jeffrey Feltman, UN under—secretary general for political affairs, told the council that if confirmed, the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine is “a direct contravention of international law and of the UN Charter.” British Prime Minister David Cameron called on Russia to “pursue a different path” or accept “further consequences.” The International Monetary Fund on Friday was to discuss the next tranche of aid to Ukraine of 1.4 billion dollars, after signalling it considers reforms it has requested from Ukraine to be on track.

The shifting Russian focus farther south along the eastern Ukraine—Russia border was seen as a sign that Moscow intends to invade near Mariupol to secure a land route to Crimea, which it seized early this year.

Published on August 29, 2014

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