Manu Brabo/AP

Fresh sanctions for Russia, as war of words with Ukraine intensifies

G-7 announce fresh measures against Moscow, meanwhile recriminations over rebels' deaths continue

As rhetoric over the deaths of five pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine turned ever more belligerent Friday, the leaders of the G-7 countries announced fresh sanctions against Moscow — intensifying a strategy that has so far proven unsuccessful in de-escalating tensions in the region.

Blasting Russia for supporting pro-separatists in eastern Ukraine, the coalition of leading economies said in a joint statement it had “committed to act urgently” in an effort to “increase the costs of Russia's actions." New sanctions could be put in place as early as Monday, a U.S. official later said.

Reiterating its “strong condemnation of Russia's illegal attempt to annex Crimea and Sevastopol,” the G-7 said it would follow through on the “consequences of this illegal annexation, including but not limited to the economic, trade and financial areas.” It added that Russia has not taken any actions to comply with the earlier Geneva accord to reduce tensions.

The G-7 statement added that sanctions could include "sectoral measures" as well as against individuals, but added that "the door remains open to diplomatic resolution of this crisis."

There will, however, be some question as to whether that latest wave of sanctions can succeed where previous attempts have failed.

Last month, the G-7 announced that Moscow would be indefinitely cut from G-8 meetings, with a planned economic summit in Russia nixed in the process. Russia responded by suggesting that the exclusion would be no big loss,

"If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the time.

The new sanctions were announced after a day in which the war of words between Moscow and Kyiv continued.

Lavrov warned Ukraine on Friday that it would face retribution for the five rebels killed by soldiers a day earlier, as Kyiv forces entered the second stage of what the government called an “anti-terrorist” campaign to stamp out pro-Russian rebels in the east.

Ukrainian government forces “are waging a war on their own people,” Lavrov said at a meeting of diplomats. “This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice.”

A few hours later, Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk fired back at that accusation.

“Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe,” Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting broadcast live and translated by Reuters. “The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, warned that any violence against pro-Russian militia in Ukraine would necessitate “consequences.”

“[The confrontations] are just a punitive operation and will, of course, incur consequences for the people making these decisions, including on our interstate relations,” Putin said in a televised meeting with regional media on Friday.  

Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement last week in Geneva that called on all parties in the country to lay down arms and vacate public buildings. Pro-Russian militias have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine, and the nationalist Right Sector movement is still in control of two public buildings in Kyiv.

But tensions have not eased, and on Friday there were scattered reports of more violence. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk. Deputy Minister Vasyl Krutov said the pilot was injured. In the city of Slovyansk, a bus of international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was seized. The Ukrainian Ministry of Interior blamed the capture on pro-Russian armed groups. 

Lavrov, in turn, accused the West on Friday of plotting to control Ukraine and said the pro-Russian armed groups in the southeast would lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kyiv. "The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people," he said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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