KIEV (AFP) – Tough new EU sanctions took effect against Russia on Friday in a coordinated action with the United States, triggering a furious response from Moscow that the West was trying to derail the peace push in Ukraine.
The Western moves come despite a fragile ceasefire signed by Kiev and pro-Russian separatists a week ago that appears to have largely halted the deadly fighting across eastern Ukraine.
The EU’s latest restrictions target major Russian energy, finance and defence companies including oil giant Rosneft and weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov.
The bloc also imposed asset freezes and visa bans on a host of Russian figures including allies of President Vladimir Putin as well as rebels in Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
US President Barack Obama also announced that Washington will intensify punitive measures to further isolate the Kremlin over its “illegal actions” that have threatened to tear apart Ukraine and set off the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
People walk along the Red Square in central Moscow on September 12. Russia’s parliamentary speaker on Friday denounced new US sanctions against Moscow as “disconnected from reality”, and charged the Ukraine crisis was an excuse for Washington to drum up tensions with its Cold War-era foe – AFP
The Russian ruble sank to a new historic low against the dollar as the sanctions hit.
“We believe that adopting such decisions at the very moment when the peace process in Ukraine is gaining strength… this means choosing a path towards undermining the peace process,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
In Kiev however, President Petro Poroshenko demonstrated his determination to remove his country further from Russia’s orbit by boosting ties with Brussels and Washington.
The latest punitive measures against Moscow reflect deep suspicions over its territorial ambitions in the former Soviet state after the seizure of Crimea in March in the chaotic weeks that followed the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader.
Both Kiev and NATO say around 1,000 Russian troops are still in Ukraine after allegedly crossing the border in what has been described as an invasion by stealth to bolster the separatist revolt.
Ukrainian authorities say the insurgents have extended their control over territory on the eastern border to the Sea of Azov after a lightning surge reportedly backed by elite Russian forces just days before the truce deal.
EU nations finally approved the measures after deep divisions about whether they should still be implemented since the ceasefire was declared, with some member states worried about the effect of on their fragile economies of any reprisals by Moscow.
However, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the 28-member bloc could “amend, suspend or repeal” them after reviewing the truce at the end of September.