As pro-Russian separatists eat up town after town in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin is closely monitoring NATO’s reaction – and the White House response.
Extra troops – 600 from the United States – were sent this week to Poland and the Baltic States to reassure NATO allies. In addition, new sanctions were imposed against Russian officials and pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists by the United States and the European Union.
The moves came following the kidnapping by pro-Russian separatists of some 40 people in eastern Ukraine.
Among the hostages were an Israeli American journalist (freed after Ukrainian government troops entered the city of separatist-controlled Sloviansk). Three members of the Ukraine security service and seven military observers for the Geneva-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are still being held.
The Jewish mayor of Kharkov in eastern Ukraine was likewise shot in the back by would-be assassins on Monday; he was airlifted in critical condition for advanced medical treatment to a hospital in Israel.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rebuked the United States and the European Union Tuesday over the sanctions imposed on Russia due to the Ukrainian crisis.
“We reject sanctions in any of our relationships, in particular those sanctions that were sponsored by the United States and the European Union, which defy all common sense, regarding the events in Ukraine,” Lavrov told reporters during a trip to Cuba.
He complained the West was “attempting to blame others” for the crisis after sanctions in the United States imposed Monday on seven Russians and 17 companies directly linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The European Union similarly named 15 new targets for sanctions on Tuesday, including General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Lt.-Gen. Igor Sergun, head of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU. Also on the list are Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and pro-Russian separatist leaders in Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. A total of 48 individuals have so far been hit by EU sanctions thus far.
“The attempts to blame others is the result of weak politicians, or rather of those politicians who understand that their geopolitical ambitions have failed, and they are attempting to blame others,” Lavrov said.
Ukraine’s Crimea region was summarily annexed by Russia’s Kremlin after the province “elected” to secede from Ukraine following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president in February due to massive protests by a population demanding closer ties to Europe.
In response, eastern Ukraine has become a hotbed of separatist activity, with one town after the next falling to pro-Russian terrorism. Nevertheless, Russia denies encouraging the attacks, even though the separatists who carried the assault weapons all spoke a guttural Russian, as heard in videos shot by news reporters.
Recently the pro-Russian eastern Ukraine Donetsk province also declared itself independent from the country, and now refers to itself as the “independent Republic of Donetsk.”