US warns Europe not to duck tougher sanctions on Russia
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama warned Europe yesterday not to duck out of tougher sanctions on Russia, as the White House revealed that new measures to be imposed today will hit Russia's defence industry.
The fresh round of US sanctions are expected to target more members of the Kremlin's inner circle along with companies in their control, according to a senior aide to Mr Obama.
Tony Blinken, the US deputy national security adviser, said that America would restrict the sale of high-tech equipment to the Russian military, and impose restrictions on the country's state-controlled defence industry.
The warnings from Washington came as pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine paraded two separate groups of alleged "spies" before television cameras in the rebel-held city of Slavyansk.
One group, accused by the separatists of being Ukrainian secret agents, were filmed stripped of their trousers and wearing bloodstained blindfolds, having apparently been badly beaten.
The others were an eight-strong team of European observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), who were arrested on Friday on suspicion of being spies for NATO.
In contrast with the Ukrainian prisoners, they said they had not been mistreated, although yesterday their captors insisted that they would only be handed over in exchange for pro-Russian activists arrested by the pro-Western government in Kiev.
With four armed rebels watching over him, Axel Schneider, a German member of the OSCE group, said the team was in good health and stressed they were "OSCE officers with diplomatic status".
"I cannot go home of my own free will," he told a news conference, adding that an OSCE delegation was negotiating to free them.
Slavyansk's new self-appointed mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, admitted that the men were "hostages of circumstance", and permitted one Swedish member of the team, a diabetic, to be released.
Meanwhile, in the major eastern city of Donetsk, a pro-Russian crowd of around 400, some armed with clubs, took control of a state television centre under the nose of Ukrainian police.
"We will turn the Russian television back on, but we will not turn the Ukrainian ones off," said one activist.
The West has placed the blame for the turmoil in eastern Ukraine firmly on Moscow, saying it has refused to use its influence in the region to calm the situation down.
Over the weekend, both Europe and the US said they would respond by imposing fresh rounds of sanctions on Russia. However, the EU measures seem unlikely to go beyond extending an existing blacklist of Kremlin officials and associates of the president, Vladimir Putin, who now face travel bans and asset freezes in the EU.
Many European nations fear that a further, more biting round of sanctions, known as "sectoral" measures because they would blacklist entire sections of Russian industry, could effect their own economies.
Yesterday, Mr Obama warned his European allies that America could not simply impose such sanctions on its own.
"The notion that for us to go forward with sectoral sanctions, on our own, without the Europeans, would be the most effective deterrent to Mr Putin, I think, is factually wrong," he said during a news conference in Malaysia, his latest stop in a tour of Asia.
"We're going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the US and Europe is unified, rather than this as just a US-Russian conflict."
Both America and Europe have hinted that sectoral sanctions will only take place if Russia presses ahead with a full-scale invasion and annexation of eastern Ukraine, as it did with Crimea last month in response to the ascension of a pro-European government in Kiev in February.
Were that to happen, it would pose a serious test of Europe's willingness to take a tough stand against Russia. With large amounts of Russian investment in the economy, introducing restrictions on Russian banks, for example, could seriously damage the financial sectors of many EU nations, including Britain.
Much of mainland Europe is also heavily dependent on Russian gas. (© Daily Telegraph, London)