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11/12/2016

West ratchets up pressure on Russia over Ukraine

Global Europe

West ratchets up pressure on Russia over Ukraine

Samantha Power [US Mission Geneva/Flickr]

The United States told the United Nations Security Council yesterday (12 November) there needs to be greater international pressure on Russia to abide by a ceasefire in Ukraine, as Russia denied it was a threat to its neighbor.

The 15-member council held its 26th meeting on Ukraine. A ceasefire agreed by pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine on 5 September in the Belarussian capital of Minsk (see background) is now all but dead and Western fears of a return to all-out conflict are growing.

Ukraine said on Wednesday it was redeploying troops in the east because of concerns that separatists will launch a new military offensive, despite Russia’s denials it sent troops to reinforce the rebels.

“What we need to do is keep ratcheting up the pressure on Russia until it abides by Minsk and chooses the path of de-escalation,” Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council.

The United States and the European Union started imposing economic sanctions on Moscow in response to Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March, a month after the overthrow of a Moscow-backed president in Kyiv after protests.

European Union foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Monday but are unlikely to step up sanctions against Russia, EU diplomats said on Wednesday.

NATO’s top military commander Philip Breedlove said in Bulgaria that the alliance had spotted military equipment arriving from Russia in regions of east Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatist rebels.

Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Alexander Pankin told the Security Council that NATO’s assessment did not reflect the situation on the ground and was an “empty statement and the usual propagandistic falsifications.”

In comments directed at Ukraine, UN Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, he said: “The equipment and forces that the Russian armed forces have are on the territory of my country and they’re not threatening yours, they are not moving from my country.”

On Tuesday, Russia abstained from a Security Council vote to renew authorization for an EU military operation in Bosnia because it said the mission could be viewed as a bid to accelerate the country’s integration into the EU and NATO. Moscow previously voted in favor of the EU operation.

A senior council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this was the first example of a spillover of the disagreements over Ukraine into other council issues.

Background

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.

>> Read: Poroshenko says Russia invaded Ukraine

The West adopted sanctions against Russia and Moscow retaliated by banning the import of Western food. A truce was declared on 5 September, but the situation on the ground has remained volatile.