Ukraine peace deal falters as rebels show no sign of surrender

KIEV/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine, (Reuters) – An international agreement to avert wider conflict in Ukraine was faltering yesterday, with pro-Moscow separatist gunmen showing no sign of surrendering government buildings they have seized.

U.S. and European officials say they will hold Moscow responsible and impose new economic sanctions if the separatists do not clear out of government buildings they have occupied across swathes of eastern Ukraine over the past two weeks.

Washington, which signed last week’s accord in Geneva along with Moscow, Kiev and the European Union, said it would decide “in days” on additional sanctions if Russia does not take steps to implement the agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, yesterday to help carry out the deal, including by “publicly calling on separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints”, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“If they don’t take steps in the coming days, there’ll be consequences,” she told a news briefing on Monday. “Obviously, we would have to make a decision in the matter of – in a matter of days – if there are going to be consequences for inaction.”

The United States and the European Union have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on some Russians over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last month. Those limited measures, designed not to have wider economic impact and to avoid deepening the crisis, have been mocked as pointless by Moscow.

Building a consensus on tougher measures is tricky in Europe where many countries rely on Russian energy exports.

In its account of their telephone conversation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov had called on Kerry to “influence Kiev, not let hotheads there provoke a bloody conflict” and to encourage it “to fulfil its obligations unflaggingly.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Kiev, where he is expected to announce a package of technical assistance. The visit is likely to be more important as a symbol of support than for any specific promises Biden makes in public.

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