Moscow on Tuesday (29/04/2014) accused Washington of bringing back “Iron Curtain” policies in the fierce showdown over Ukraine, while the West revealed its new sanctions included measures against Russia’s military chief.
The furious escalation in language from Russia underlined the Cold War echoes of the crisis as the United States and Europe set in motion sanctions to hammer powerful Russian figures and firms close to President Vladimir Putin.
The increasing geopolitical tensions were doing nothing to ease the situation on the ground in east Ukraine, where sporadic violence was unabated and negotiations to free seven OSCE inspectors held by rebels continued.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov tore into the United States for leading the sanctions charge on Monday, especially for its decision to curb hi-tech exports to Russia that could have military uses.
“All of that is a blow to our high-tech enterprises and industries,” Ryabkov said in an interview with online newspaper Gazeta.ru.
“This is a revival of a system created in 1949 when Western countries essentially lowered an ‘Iron Curtain’, cutting off supplies of high-tech goods to the USSR and other countries.”
The European Union, meanwhile, revealed that General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces and the country’s deputy defence minister, was one of 15 Russians and Ukrainians targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban in bloc’s latest blacklist.
Russia’s foreign ministry responded by saying the European bloc was “doing Washington’s bidding with new unfriendly gestures towards Russia”.
The White House on Monday slapped sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 companies close to Putin, while Canada added nine names and two banks and Japan said it was denying visas to 23 targeted Russians.
An outraged Kremlin has vowed “painful” retaliation against Washington for the measures.
But for all the fury, there was no sign the sanctions were having any immediate effect on getting Russia to use its influence to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.
On Monday, a mayor in east Ukraine’s biggest city of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes, was shot in the back by an unknown gunman, leaving him in a critical condition.
Kernes, who is Jewish, was flown Tuesday to Israel for medical treatment, his spokesman said.
Fourteen people were also seriously hurt on Monday when pro-Moscow militants wielding bricks, bats and knives attacked their march for Ukrainian unity in the city of Donetsk.
Kalashnikov-toting militants the same day seized the town hall of Kostyantynivka – the latest of more than a dozen towns held by the pro-Russian rebels.
Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, has repeatedly said it has no plans to invade the ex-Soviet republic.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu repeated that assurance in a telephone conversation with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon said.
Shoigu again denied US accusations that covert Russian forces were already deployed in Ukraine to sow unrest, and urged Washington to tone down its rhetoric on the crisis.
Hagel in turn called for an end to Russia’s “destabilising influence inside Ukraine and warned that continued aggression would further isolate Russia and result in more diplomatic and economic pressure”.
The US defence secretary also asked for Moscow’s help in securing the release of the seven OSCE inspectors held by pro-Russian militants in Slavyansk.
An AFP journalist in Slavyansk said early Tuesday there was still no sign of the captive inspectors leaving the occupied town hall, where they were being kept under armed guard.
The OSCE has been negotiating for several days to free the seven Europeans, who were seized on Friday along with a Swede, who was released on Sunday because he suffers from diabetes.
The local rebel leader has given the OSCE a list of pro-Russian militants detained by Ukrainian authorities who he wants freed in a prisoner swap.
Kiev’s soldiers are surrounding the flashpoint town in a bid to prevent reinforcements reaching militants there.
Washington insists Moscow is behind the insurgency in Ukraine and US President Barack Obama has warned he is ready to “impose still greater costs” on Russia if it does not cease its “illegal intervention and provocative actions”.
Among those targeted by the latest US sanctions are close Putin ally Igor Sechin, president and chairman of the board at Rosneft, Russia’s top petroleum company and one of the world’s largest publicly traded oil companies.
Standard and Poor’s cut its credit rating for Rosneft and Russian state gas giant Gazprom because of the sanctions.
Washington is also tightening licensing requirements for certain high-tech exports to Russia that could be used for military purposes.
It further warned it would target specific sectors of the Russian economy if an invasion takes place.
Russia in March sent forces to Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and organised a hasty referendum there that ended with it annexing the territory.
The fresh Western sanctions are a response to Russia’s perceived failure to implement an April 17 deal struck in Geneva to defuse the crisis.
The deal had required armed groups to leave seized buildings, but the West has blamed Moscow for failing to get the pro-Russian militants to vacate occupied properties.
“Russia has so far failed to implement any part of the Geneva agreement,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who plans to visit Ukraine as well as Moldova and Georgia next week.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon Monday appealed to all sides to ease tensions and restore “the spirit of compromise” shown at the Geneva talks.
The crisis has escalated at breakneck pace since November when pro-Western protesters in Kiev began mass demonstrations against Kremlin-backed then-president Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected an agreement to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union.
After four months of protests, which turned deadly as authorities tried to break them up, Yanukovych was forced from power.
In response, Moscow launched a blitz annexation of the peninsula of Crimea and stepped up troop deployments on the border. – AFP