Mediators held in Ukraine as US readies new Russia sanctions

SLAVIANSK, Ukraine/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and the European Union are expected on Monday to impose new sanctions on Russian individuals, sources said yesterday, as the Ukraine crisis escalated with armed pro-Russia separatists seizing a bus carrying international mediators.

The Pentagon said Russian aircraft breached Ukraine’s airspace several times over the past 24 hours, but did not offer more details. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren called on Russia to “take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.”

The separatist self-declared mayor of the east Ukraine city of Slaviansk told Reuters the mediators were being held because they were believed to have a spy amongst them from the pro-Western government in Kiev.

“People who come here as observers bringing with them a real spy: it’s not appropriate,” Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said in front of a security service building occupied by separatists where the Ukrainian government said the observers were being detained.

The fresh US and EU sanctions come in response to Russia’s alleged efforts to destabilise eastern Ukraine, said sources familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The EU is expected to name 15 previously unidentified individuals to be placed under sanctions and would focus on those it thinks are responsible for the unrest in Ukraine, the sources said.

The United States is expected to impose sanctions on entities and individuals, including “cronies” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, they said.

The sources said the one thing that might prevent the EU and the United States from moving ahead with the sanctions on Monday would be a sudden reversal of what they say is Russian-sponsored separatist movements in eastern Ukraine.

“You will find a European list much more connected to actions on the ground, and an American list more focused on cronies and entities,” said one of the sources, adding that some EU nations remain concerned about placing sanctions on Putin associates.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said 13 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had been seized, including three members of the German armed forces, a German translator and a Danish national.

“It is critical that we use all diplomatic channels to free this team immediately and unhurt,” von der Leyen said, adding that officials were trying to establish the captors’ demands.

Russia denies allegations it is directing the separatists, who have taken control of large parts of eastern Ukraine over the past three weeks.

But the White House said US President Barack Obama and European allies agreed yesterday that Russia had escalated tension in the region, where the rebels have declared an independent “People’s Republic of Donetsk”.

Britain and Germany agreed further sanctions were in order, building on targeted US and European sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“We are working with our international partners to make sure that when we do it, we do it in an effective way,” US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.

Putin has scoffed at the sanctions so far imposed, which have been limited to travel bans and overseas assets freezes on individuals.

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