KIEV (AFP) – Russia accused the West on Saturday of fuelling unrest in Ukraine by adopting anti-Kremlin sanctions that further erode the prospects of peace talks to end the separatist war.
A Ukrainian conference mediated by European and Russian envoys in the Belarusian capital Minsk had initially been set for last week and meant to coincide with a new truce in the eight-month conflict.
The ceasefire appears to be holding better than similar previous measures and the number of daily rocket and mortar attacks across the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk has gone down.
But Ukrainian forces still reported the loss of five soldiers Friday and have seen 15 servicemen killed since the December 9 deal.
The sudden glimmer of hope that the end of Europe’s worst violence since the 1990s Balkans conflicts was approaching has seen Western allies step up their pressure on Russia – already reeling from its worst economic crisis of Vladimir Putin’s 15-year rule.
The United States matched a similar measure by the European Union by slapping a trade ban on Kremlin-controlled Crimea.
Canada went a step further by also targeting Russia’s vital oil and gas industry, which accounts for about half the government’s tax revenues.
Moscow resolutely denies backing the rebels and brands all steps against it as an effort to either topple Putin or “defang” Russia’s military and industrial might.
It called the 13th wave of Western sanctions against it a dangerous step that only hardens the guerrillas’ resolve.
“We advise Washington and Ottawa to think about the consequences of such actions,” the Russian foreign minister said Saturday.
“The sanctions are directed to disrupt the political process,” it added.
Crimea’s Moscow-backed leader Sergei Aksyonov called the EU sanctions in particular an attempt to “humiliate Russia”.
The Black Sea peninsula declared independence in March after being overrun by Russian soldiers who wore unmarked uniforms and denied being sent by Moscow.