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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

EU Moves to Sanction Separatists as E. Ukraine Fighting Intensifies

by VOA News November 17, 2014

European Union foreign ministers moved Monday to ratchet up sanctions against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, amid reports of intensified fighting in the region.

EU diplomats reported that the foreign ministers, who were meeting in Brussels, have asked EU officials to put more separatists on the bloc's sanctions list.

However, there was no indication that Russia would be hit with additional EU sanctions.

The EU move follows elections held by the separatists earlier this month in the areas under their control, which were denounced by Western governments, as well as an upsurge in fighting between rebel and government forces despite a cease-fire reached in early September.

Witnesses reported fresh shelling in and around the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Monday.

Ukrainian officials reported Monday that ten servicemen - seven soldiers and three policemen - were killed over the previous 24 hours in attacks at various locations in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Donetsk city officials reported that one civilian was killed and eight wounded in shelling over the weekend.

Government and rebel forces routinely accuse each other of breaking the September 5 cease-fire and shelling civilian areas.

'Most dangerous place'

In an interview published Monday with Germany's Bild newspaper, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko called Ukraine 'the most dangerous place in the world,' alleging that 'thousands' of Russian soldiers are inside his country along with hundreds of tanks and heavy artillery.

He said Ukraine's military is prepared for the possibility of 'total war' with Russia.

On Saturday, Poroshenko, issued decrees ordering all Ukrainian state companies operating in rebel-held territory to cease operations within a week and to evacuate state workers. They also urged Ukraine's central bank to close down all banking services in rebel-held regions, including card operations.

Poroshenko already has ordered an end to state funding to the separatist-held areas in Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Authorities said those cuts were largely aimed at subsidies and social payments, including pensions, but would not affect natural gas flow to rebel areas during winter months.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked by the German TV network ARD in an interview broadcast Sunday about Western charges that Moscow is supplying Ukraine's separatists, avoided confirming or denying those allegations.

Putin responded by saying that 'people who wage a fight and consider it righteous will always get weapons.'

In the interview, which was recorded Thursday, before the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, Putin said he was worried about 'possible ethnic cleansing and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state.' Similar rhetoric has often been used by Russian officials and media in what is seen as a coordinated propaganda effort to discredit Ukraine.

Putin's early G20 summit departure

The Russian president left the G20 summit Sunday earlier than previously planned, after a series of meeting with world leaders described as contentious. But he told Russian reporters his exit was induced by fatigue and had nothing to do with discord over Ukraine.

President Putin has said he wants to reach a compromise with Ukraine, while denying the presence of any Russian soldiers or weapons in rebel-controlled areas. The Kremlin has sought to portray Russian combat soldiers inside Ukraine's east as volunteers.

Despite those denials, European observers reported Russian tanks, troops and weapons crossing into eastern Ukraine this past week.

In another sign of heightened East-West tensions, Russia has ordered several Polish diplomats out of the country after Warsaw expelled several Russian diplomats, apparently for alleged spying.

In a similar move over alleged espionage, Germany expelled a Russian diplomat over the weekend, after which Russia ordered a German diplomat to leave the country.

On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama said Russia will remain isolated by the international community if it continues to violate international law and treaties aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine.

Speaking at the Brisbane G20 summit, Obama said current Western sanctions against Moscow for its support of rebels in Ukraine's east have proven effective. He also said Western critics of Russia's role in the crisis are preparing to increase pressure, if necessary, to gain Russian President Vladimir Putin's cooperation in ending fighting near the Russian border.

Moscow continues to deny that it in any way supports the separatists in east Ukraine.

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