US President Barack Obama threatened fresh sanctions against Moscow if it escalates the crisis over Ukraine, as pro-Russia separatists faced Friday’s deadline from Kiev to lay down their arms.
The president stressed that the United States, the European Union and other global partners must “be prepared to meet further Russian escalation with additional sanctions,” the White House said in a statement, after Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone on Thursday.
The United States also delivered the warning to Russia at World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington, amid worries that a spiralling Ukraine crisis could hurt the world economy.
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Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told his Russian counterpart Finance Minister Anton Siluanov that in addition to the sanctions that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month, “the United States is prepared to impose additional significant sanctions on Russia if it continues to escalate the situation in Ukraine,” the Treasury said.
Ukraine’s embattled leaders, scrambling to hold their splintered country together after the annexation of Crimea, on Thursday offered amnesty to pro-Russian separatists occupying eastern state buildings if they lay down their arms and halt a four-day siege.
The olive branch came as the clock ticked down to a Friday morning deadline set by Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov to resolve the tense situation in the east.
Armed assailants who stormed the state security building in Lugansk and the seat of government in nearby Donetsk want to hold independence referendums like the one that led to Crimea’s takeover by Russia last month.
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, in power since pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, told lawmakers that Ukraine’s latest secessionist crisis could be resolved peacefully.
“If people lay down their arms and free the administration buildings… we guarantee that we will not launch any criminal proceedings against them,” he promised.
But the separatists dug in yesterday, fortifying their barricades with razor wire, sand bags and old tyres that could be set on fire in case of a police assault.
The Donetsk separatists earlier proclaimed the creation of their own “people’s republic” and called on Putin to order Russian troops into Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
In a further escalation of the crisis, Russia warned Europe yesterday that its gas supplies would be in peril unless it helped to pay off Ukrainian debts.