KIEV: Tensions over Ukraine festered after Kiev accused the Kremlin of seeking to “eliminate” the pro-Western former Soviet nation, while Moscow charged Washington with orchestrating the entire crisis.
The bitter exchange on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in the wake of the toughest Western sanctions yet on Russia came with a fragile nine-day truce once again tested by an hours-long battle for control of a strategic eastern Ukrainian airport.
Russia further stoked tensions by sending a 220-truck convoy into rebel-held territory which it said carried aid but which was never checked by European monitors or Ukrainian soldiers at the border.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on world leaders not to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin despite his decision to sign Moscow up to a truce aimed at ending a five-month war that has claimed more than 2,700 lives.
Yatsenyuk accused the increasingly isolated Kremlin chief of deliberately keeping Ukraine in a state of war to create a “frozen conflict” in Russia’s backyard.
“His goal is to take the entire Ukraine . . . He wants to eliminate Ukraine as an independent country,” Yatsenyuk told an international forum in Kiev.
“He wants to restore the Soviet Union,” Yatsenyuk said.
Getting sanctions to work
The European-mediated peace deal that Kiev signed with Moscow and two rebel leaders has helped calm fighting across the economically vital but devastated industrial rustbelt that hugs Russia’s border in eastern Ukraine.
But both the United States and Europe remain deeply suspicious of Putin’s intentions and are still waiting for him to pull back 1,000 paratroopers they claim have helped insurgents claw back territory in the days preceding the truce.
Moscow not only denies backing the fighters but also accuses Washington of fomenting the February protests that ousted a pro-Kremlin leader and brought in a new team that struck an historic EU alliance and is now seeking North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took particular exception with measures that tighten existing US sanctions and for the first time target two private oil companies as well as the natural gas giant Gazprom.
Lavrov accused Washington of “trying to use the crisis in Ukraine to break economic ties between the EU and Russia and force Europe to buy US gas at much higher prices.”
Russia supplies about a third of Europe’s natural gas needs — a reliance that forced Brussels to shield Gazprom from its other sanctions on state-held energy firms.
But Washington added Gazprom to the list of energy firms that will be denied access to advanced exploration equipment needed for new projects.
Top Russian banks and energy companies have also been barred from borrowing from both US and European capital markets for longer than a month.