Saturday 24 March 2018

Another Ukraine regional HQ seized

The European Union has named 15 new targets of sanctions because of their roles in the Ukraine crisis (AP)
The European Union has named 15 new targets of sanctions because of their roles in the Ukraine crisis (AP)

Demonstrators demanding more power for Ukraine's regions have stormed the regional administration building in Luhansk, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east.

The action raises tensions further in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.

The demonstrators who stormed the building in Luhansk, like those elsewhere in the east, want a referendum on granting greater authority to Ukraine's regions.

Eastern Ukraine, with a large Russian-speaking population, was the heartland of support for Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly president who was ousted in February.

Earlier today, the European Union released the names of 15 new targets of sanctions because of their roles in the Ukraine crisis.

Pro-Russian separatist leaders in Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea are on the list, as well as Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak.

The list also includes General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, and Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, identified as the head of GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.

The decision taken by the EU governments' ambassadors in Brussels brings the number of Russians or pro-Russian individuals in Ukraine targeted by the EU's sanctions to 48.

The initial sanctions were adopted following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula last month.

The EU and the US now also accuse Russia of destabilising eastern Ukraine. Nato says Moscow has amassed 40,000 troops just across the Ukrainian border and could invade the country within days if it wanted to.

The EU move comes after the US decided to broaden its own sanctions to include seven Russian government officials and 17 companies with links to president Vladimir Putin.

The EU is Russia's biggest trading partner, giving it greater economic leverage over Moscow than the US. However, the EU treads more carefully in imposing sanctions since Russia is also one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers - and the bloc apparently shied away from following Washington's lead in targeting specific Russian companies.

EU leaders have threatened Russia with tougher economic sanctions, for example targeting its financial industry or the energy sector, if the situation in eastern Ukraine further escalates, but those sanctions are not yet being considered.

The storming in Luhansk came as 1,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the building.

About 150 people, some masked and wielding baseball bats, broke out of the crowd and charged into the building without resistance. Later protesters formed a corridor for police who had been inside the building to leave.

Luhansk, a city of about 450,000 people, is just 15 miles from the Russian border.

The incident came as Ukraine's parliament in Kiev discussed the possibility of holding a national referendum on whether the country should remain a united state or a loose federation that allows regions more powers.

However, no consensus was reached on how a referendum would be phrased or when it could be held.

Russia's foreign minister later criticised the EU and US sanctions as being "against all common sense".

Sergey Lavrov was speaking in Havana, where he was meeting Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez.

His comments came after US treasury secretary Jack Lew said the sanctions were taking an economic toll on Moscow.

Mr Lew told a House panel that the US and its allies remain unified in imposing costs on Russia and said the additional penalties announced yesterday will have an impact.

He said the goal was clear - forcing Moscow to pursue a diplomatic solution.

Mr Lew said the US is prepared to take additional steps if Russia does not change course. He defended the penalties against some Republican and Democratic critics in Congress and insisted there had been a substantial deterioration in the Russian economy.

Press Association

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