US President Barack Obama threatened fresh sanctions against Moscow if it escalates the crisis over Ukraine, as pro-Russia separatists faced a deadline yesterday from Kiev to lay down their arms.
Russia had warned Europe on Thursday that its gas supplies would be in peril unless it helped to pay off Ukrainian debts.
The US president stressed that the US, the EU and other global partners must “be prepared to meet further Russian escalation with additional sanctions,” the White House said in a statement, after Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by telephone on Thursday.
The US also delivered the warning to Russia at World Bank-IMF meetings in Washington, amid worries that a spiraling Ukraine crisis could hurt the global economy.
US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew told his Russian counterpart, Russian Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov, that in addition to the sanctions that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month, “the United States is prepared to impose additional significant sanctions on Russia if it continues to escalate the situation in Ukraine,” the Treasury said.
Ukraine’s embattled leaders, scrambling to hold their splintered nation together after Crimea’s annexation, on Thursday offered amnesty to pro-Russian separatists occupying eastern state buildings if they lay down their arms and halt a four-day siege.
The olive branch came as the clock ticked down to a deadline yesterday morning, set by Ukrainian Minister of the Interior Arsen Avakov to resolve the tense situation in the east.
Armed assailants who stormed the state security building in Lugansk and the seat of government in nearby Donetsk want to hold independence referendums like the one that led to Crimea’s takeover by Russia last month.
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov, in power since pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, told lawmakers that Ukraine’s latest secessionist crisis could be resolved peacefully.
“If people lay down their arms and free the administration buildings ... we guarantee that we will not launch any criminal proceedings against them,” he said.
However, the separatists dug in on Thursday, fortifying their barricades with razor wire, sand bags and old tires that could be set on fire in case of a police assault.
The Donetsk separatists earlier proclaimed the creation of their own “people’s republic” and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to order Russian troops into Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
Meanwhile on Thursday NATO released 19 satellite pictures showing that up to 40,000 Russian troops armed with tanks and military vehicles have set up camp east of Ukraine’s border.
“This force is very capable, ready to move quickly if ordered. It’s a concern because it represents a real threat for Ukraine,” said Brigadier Gary Deakin, director of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis Operations and Management Center.
Meanwhile, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim warned that the crisis would have far-reaching effects on Russia, forcing it into recession this year.