US levels Crimea sanctions as Ukraine battles separatism

US levels Crimea sanctions as Ukraine battles separatism
# 12 April 2014 03:49 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. The United States slapped sanctions Friday on seven architects of Crimea's split from Ukraine as the ex-Soviet country struggled to stamp out another insurgency by pro-Russian separatists, APA reports quoting AFP.

The new Treasury sanctions escalated the tit-for-tat row between Russia and the West over Ukraine after Moscow threatened to cut off gas supplies to its neighbour unless it settled its unpaid bills -- a move that could wreak economic havoc on European countries that source gas from Ukraine.

Washington's latest sanctions hit back at that threat while also sending a warning to Kalashnikov-armed militants barricaded inside state buildings in two key cities in eastern Ukraine that following in Crimea's footsteps would have consequences.

"Crimea is occupied territory. We will continue to impose costs on those involved in ongoing violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen as he announced the measures.

The sanctions freeze the US-based assets of key Crimean breakaway leaders and gas company Chernomorneftegaz, whose funds were seized by the Crimean parliament and are now managed by Moscow.

The move came after embattled Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk vowed during a visit to the Donetsk coal mining zone to grant more power to the country's regions in a bid to soothe separatist tensions. Separatists have been occupying the local government building in Donetsk for five days, demanding a referendum on joining Russia. A similar occupation of the state security office of the hardscrabble eastern city of Lugansk has confronted Ukraine's untested leaders with their biggest challenge since their February ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin -- his troops already massed along Ukraine's eastern border following their seizure of Crimea -- only upped the stakes by threatening to cut off Ukraine's gas over unpaid bills.

The decision could limit the supplies of at least 18 European nations for the third time since 2006. Each of the previous interruptions also coincided with attempts by Ukraine to pull itself out of the Kremlin's historic sphere of influence.

The Kremlin's emphatic response to its possible loss of control over the nation of 46 million people has plunged its relations with the West to post-Cold War lows and forced NATO to step up the defence of former Soviet satellite states.

The sabre rattling has set an ominous tone to the first round of four-way talks on the crisis, which will bring together the United States, European Union, Ukraine and Russia in Geneva on April 17, the US and EU confirmed.

"I have to say that we don't have high expectations for these talks, but we do believe it is very important to keep that diplomatic door open and will see what they bring," said US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.

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