The US moved to impose fresh sanctions against Russia yesterday over the crisis in Ukraine, as pro-Kremlin gunmen seized another town in the east, further escalating tensions.
Speaking in the Philippines, US President Barack Obama said the sanctions would include export restrictions on high-tech defense goods to ratchet up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, blamed for the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Top EU officials were also meeting in Brussels to step up European sanctions on Russia as part of a coordinated global effort against Moscow.
On the ground in eastern Ukraine, tensions spiked further as gunmen stormed the town hall and police offices in Kostyantynivka, the latest in a string of insurgent assaults on towns in the region.
The pro-Russian mayor of Kharkiv was also left fighting for his life after unidentified gunmen shot him in the back.
In the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, rebels refused to release a group of international monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe after presenting them to the media as “prisoners of war” in what Germany said was a “repugnant” display.
Meanwhile, the threat of a full-scale invasion loomed large over the ex-Soviet country, with tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the border and Ukraine’s prime minister warning of efforts to start a “third world war.”
On the last leg of a four-country Asia tour, Obama announced new steps to punish Russia for what the president has called “provocation” on Ukraine’s border, where Moscow has conducted military operations.
He said Washington would unveil a list of “individuals and companies” that will be sanctioned to build pressure on Putin and Russia’s recession-hit economy.
He added that the measures would also focus on “high-tech defense exports to Russia” that he said were not appropriate given the parlous climate between Moscow and the West.
The sanctions are in response to Russia’s perceived lack of action to implement an April 17 accord struck in Geneva, Switzerland, to defuse the crisis.
Obama has said Moscow has not “lifted a finger” on the deal.
The goal was not to “go after Mr Putin personally,” Obama said, but to “change his calculus” and “encourage him to walk the walk and not just talk the talk” in resolving the crisis diplomatically.
The G7 top economies have vowed swift joint action and EU diplomats were expected to expand the bloc’s sanctions against Moscow later yesterday.
The West has already imposed visa and travel restrictions on key members of Putin’s inner circle and slapped sanctions on a top bank. However, some fear that undermining Russia’s economy could tip the world back into recession, just as it begins to recover from the eurozone debt crisis.
Reflecting those jitters, stocks in Japan closed nearly 1 percent lower and the yen — seen as a safe haven against uncertainty — gained in value.