Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine freed a Swedish observer on Sunday, but said they had no plans to release seven other European monitors they have been holding for three days.
On the eve of an expected announcement of a mild tightening of Western sanctions against a targeted list of Russians, US President Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to join forces to impose stronger measures to restrain Moscow.
In Donetsk, where pro-Russian rebels have proclaimed an independent “people’s republic”, armed fighters seized the headquarters of regional television and ordered it to start broadcasting a Russian state TV channel.
Washington and Brussels are expected, possibly as early as Monday, to add new people and firms close to Russian President Vladimir Putin to a small list of those hit by punitive measures. But they have yet to reach a consensus on imposing wider sanctions that would hurt Russia’s economy more generally.
Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, Obama said the impact of any decision over wider sanctions would depend on whether the United States and its allies could find a unified position.
“We’re going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified rather than this is just a U.S.-Russian conflict,” Obama told reporters.
The pro-Russian rebels seized eight European monitors three days ago and have been holding them at their most heavily-fortified redoubt in the town of Slaviansk.
One of them was permitted to leave on Sunday after OSCE negotiators arrived to discuss their release. The freed man got into an OSCE-marked car and drove away. A separatist spokeswoman said the prisoner, a Swede, had been let go on medical grounds, but there were no plans to free the rest.
The captives were shown to reporters on Sunday and said they were in good health.
“We have no indication when we will be sent home to our countries,” Colonel Axel Schneider told reporters as armed men in camouflage fatigues and balaclavas looked on. “We wish from the bottom of our hearts to go back to our nations as soon and as quickly as possible.”
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