DONETSK, Ukraine: US President Barack Obama accused Russia on Thursday of failing to respect an agreement to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, the latest salvo in the Cold War-like duel between Washington and Moscow over the future of the ex-Soviet nation.
Obama said Washington was ready to slap fresh sanctions on Moscow, a day after Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, warned that it was ready to strike if its interests were attacked.
“So far at least we have seen them not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva,” Obama said in Tokyo at the start of a four-nation tour of Asia.
“Instead we continue to see malicious, armed men taking over buildings, harassing folks who are disagreeing with them, destabilizing the region and we haven’t seen Russia step out and discouraging it,” he said.
“On the other side you have seen the government in Kiev taking very concrete steps, introducing amnesty law, offering the whole range of reforms with respect to the constitution, that are consistent with what we discussed in Geneva,” Obama added.
If Russia did not play its part, there would be “consequences and we will ramp up further sanctions,” he warned.
Under the deal struck between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union in Geneva last week, militias in Ukraine were due to disarm and give up control of seized state property.
But while Washington and Kiev have put the onus on pro-Kremlin militants holding buildings in the east, Moscow said the responsibility fell to pro-Western nationalists camping out in Kiev.
The Kremlin has an estimated 40,000 Russian troops poised on Ukraine’s eastern border, prompting Washington on Wednesday to start deploying 600 US troops to boost the defenses of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in eastern European states bordering Ukraine.
The first unit of 150 US soldiers arrived in Poland on Wednesday, with the remainder due to land in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the coming days.
The Geneva accord was aimed at easing the crisis that first flared in Ukraine in November, when its pro-Kremlin president backed out of an agreement to bring the country closer to the EU, sparking protests in the strategic nation of 46 million sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.