US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia Thursday against making an “expensive mistake” in Ukraine, telling Moscow that time was running out for it to change course as Russia ordered fresh military drills along its shared border with Ukraine.
Kerry, who was speaking in Washington, accused Moscow of a "full-throated effort to actively sabotage the democratic process through gross external intimidation" and described the new Russian military exercises on the border of Ukraine as "threatening".
"Let me be clear: if Russia continues in this direction it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake," the veteran diplomat said, adding "we are ready to act" as Washington tees up new economic sanctions against Moscow.
On Friday, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accused Russia of wanting to start "World War Three" by occupying Ukraine both “militarily and politically”.
“Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe,” Yatseniuk told the interim cabinet in remarks broadcast live. “The world has not yet forgotten World War Two, but Russia already wants to start World War Three”, he said.
US President Barack Obama is also expected to speak to several European leaders on Friday to try to nudge the EU towards a new round of sanctions against Russia, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Russia ordered the new military exercises on its border with Ukraine on Thursday after Kiev launched a deadly assault against pro-Kremlin rebels occupying the flashpoint town of Slaviansk, in the east.
American officials have grown increasingly impatient with what they describe as Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments in an April 17 agreement reached in Geneva to try to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.
The US is also frustrated at the reluctance of some European nations, notably Germany and Italy, to impose a new round of economic sanctions on Russia. Although it would much prefer to act in concert with the EU, the sources said Washington could also act on its own.
Under the agreement, illegal armed groups in Ukraine, including separatists in the largely Russian-speaking east, are supposed to disarm and disband.
But, said Obama, "we continue to see malicious, armed men taking over buildings, harassing folks who are disagreeing with them, destabilising the region and we haven't seen Russia step out and discouraging it."
Kiev, he said, had sought to enact the accord by pledging an amnesty for the rebels, and to protect the Russian language and decentralise power.
While Obama has ruled out sending US or NATO forces into Ukraine, Washington has begun deploying 600 US troops to boost NATO's defences in nearby eastern European states.
France also said it was sending four fighter jets to join NATO air patrols over the Baltic states.
Russia accuses West of using Ukraine as ‘pawn’
In a televised address on Thursday, Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchinov vowed to push ahead with the offensive to put down the rebellion in the east.
"We will not back down from the terrorist threat," Turchinov said, telling Russia to stop interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in turn attacked the US and the EU of "trying to use Ukraine as a pawn in a geopolitical game".
UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned the crisis threatened to "spin out of control" and urged all sides to "refrain from violence".
In Slaviansk several Ukrainian armoured vehicles backed by commandos on foot arrived after gunfire was heard on its outskirts.
The vehicles withdrew just a few hours later, leaving the insurgents, who had pulled back, to again assert full control over the town.
No reason was given for the retreat, but Ukrainian authorities had said they wanted to avoid casualties in the town where they said civilians were being used as "human shields".
While Ukraine's interior ministry said five militants were killed in the offensive, the rebels said two of their members had died in the assault.
The assault on Slaviansk followed two other clashes in east Ukraine.
Thursday's violence was the worst to erupt since the deal done in Geneva between Kiev, Moscow and the West aimed at defusing tensions.
Moscow warns of Kiev’s ‘war machine’
Upon learning of the assault in Slaviansk, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned there would be "consequences".
His Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Ukraine had mobilised 11,000 troops, 160 tanks and gangs of extremists "against peaceful civilians".
"If this war machine is not stopped today, then it will lead to a large number of dead and wounded," he said, as Moscow ordered tactical battalions among its estimated 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine's border to conduct a new "exercise" in response to the offensive.
The show of force came a day after Moscow said it would respond as it did in Georgia in 2008, if its interests in Ukraine were attacked.
Russia sent troops into South Ossetia in August 2008 after then president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili sought to reestablish control over the breakaway region.
As the crisis in Ukraine has escalated, Moscow has built up forces on the border - estimated by NATO officials at up to 40,000 troops - and maintains it has the right to protect Russian-speakers if they come under threat.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-25