UK & World News

  • 18 April 2014, 11:44

Obama's Warning To Russia Over Ukraine Deal

Western leaders have reacted cautiously to an agreement reached with Russia over a plan to ease tensions in Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama warned the West stood ready to impose further sanctions on Russia if no progress was made in de-escalating the continuing crisis.

He was speaking following an apparent breakthrough at emergency talks in Geneva attended by the US, Russia, the European Union and Ukraine.

Initial "concrete steps" agreed by the parties included the handing back of occupied buildings, the disbanding of armed groups, an amnesty for protesters, and the use of international observers.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said progress had been made at the summit, but stressed words now needed to be translated into actions.

Mr Obama said: "I don't think we can be sure of anything at this point. There is the possibility, the prospect, that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation.

"The question now becomes will in fact they use the influence they've exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election and move forward with the decentralisation reforms that they've proposed.

"We are not going to count on it until we see it.

"We have put in place additional consequences that we can impose on the Russians if we do not see actual improvement of the situation."

Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the commitments made at the Geneva talks, believing they offered "a route for de-escalation", but added commitments by Russia on disarming of armed groups were "critical".

Hopes of a defusing the crisis came amid heightened tensions with Ukraine's security service reportedly detaining 10 Russian citizens with intelligence backgrounds, and Vladimir Putin accusing Kiev of plunging the country into an "abyss".

Earlier, during his annual televised phone-in with the nation that lasted nearly four hours, Mr Putin rejected the presence of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine as "nonsense", and welcomed the diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation "through dialogue, not force".

However, he admitted for the first time the presence of Russian forces in Crimea - before and during the referendum to join Russia.

And he did not rule out sending troops across the border again, saying he hoped he would not have to.

Mr Putin†raised the issue of gas supply and gave Ukraine a month to pay the $2.2bn (£1.3bn) Moscow claims Kiev owes for gas supplies before it demanded upfront payments.

There was also a surprise question in English on surveillance from Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former CIA operative who has been granted asylum in Russia.

Meanwhile, the US announced it is to send military assistance to Ukraine including medical supplies and power generators, but not weapons or ammunition.

In recent days tensions have increased with pro-Russian separatists stepping up activities in the east of Ukraine.

The well-armed militias have seized armoured vehicles and weapons from Ukrainian forces and occupied a number of government buildings in towns and cities.

In the latest violence, three pro-Russian separatists were reportedly shot dead during an overnight raid on a Black Sea military base in Mariupol.

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