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    US ready to impose more sanctions against Russia

    Pro-Russian activists on Saturday seized government buildings in the eastern town of Slaviansk, about 150km from the Russian border.

    The United States is prepared to step up sanctions against Russia if recent actions in Ukraine continue, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said on Sunday.

    Pro-Russian activists on Saturday seized government buildings in the eastern town of Slaviansk, about 150km from the Russian border. Ukrainian security forces on Sunday were trying to oust the activists, who set up barricades on the outskirts of the city.

    Power said on ABC’s This Week the latest events in Ukraine bore “the telltale signs of Moscow’s involvement.”

    She said sanctions already imposed by Washington have had an impact: the Russian rouble has fallen to an all-time low, the Russian stock market has depreciated by 20 per cent and investors are fleeing the country.

    “The president has made clear that, depending on Russian behaviour, that sectoral sanctions in energy, banking, mining could be on the table, and there’s a lot in between,” she said.

    “I think we’ve seen that the sanctions can bite and if actions like the kind we’ve seen over the last few days continue, you’re going to see a ramping up of those sanctions,” Power said.

    Ukraine faces a rash of rebellions in the east that it says are inspired and directed by the Kremlin.

    Nato described the appearance in eastern Ukraine of men with specialised Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia - as previously worn by Moscow’s troops when they seized Crimea — as a “grave development.”

    Power said the rebellion has “all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea: it’s professional, it’s coordinated, it’s nothing grassroots-seeming about it. The forces are doing in each of the six or seven cities that they’ve been active in exactly the same thing.”

    Ukraine on Sunday launched an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive east.

    The offensive against the separatist militants threatens to further escalate tensions with Russia, which has 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border and has warned Kiev against the use of force. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced on Facebook that units from “all of the country’s force structures” were taking part in the operation in the poor mining town of Slavyansk. He later said the gunmen had opened fire on special forces and were “shooting to kill”. — Agencies

    With military precision and dressed in unmarked fatigues, heavily armed militants on Saturday launched a series of attacks against security buildings in the tinderbox eastern rust belt. This came after a week of soaring tensions as pro-Russians demanding greater autonomy, or to join nearby Russia, stepped up protests in the region.

    Avakov said the events were seen in Kiev as an “act of aggression” by Russia, which has flatly denied any role in the unrest sweeping Ukraine’s east.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and “made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences”, a senior State Department official said.

    A first wave of US sanctions unveiled in March blacklisted officials and businesspeople close to Russian President Vladimir Putin to protest at Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.

    And on Sunday, France said it would support new sanctions against Moscow if there is a military escalation in Ukraine, speaking on the eve of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon late Saturday called on all sides to “exercise maximum restraint” and engage in dialogue to calm a situation that has a “growing potential for violent clashes”, a UN statement said.

    The volatile situation in the east cast doubt on planned direct talks between European Union and United States diplomats and their Moscow and Kiev counterparts in Geneva on Thursday.

    (AFP)

     
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