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Ukraine rebels free Swedish hostage, seven others remain

Vacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, center, is flanked by a group of foreign military observers including Axel Schneider, fourth from the left, and John Christensen, third left, a senior Sgt. in the Danish army, being held by Ponomarev's group during a press conference in city hall, Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

KUALA LUMPUR/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine: Pro-Russian rebels Sunday paraded European monitors they are holding in eastern Ukraine, freeing one but saying they had no plans to release another seven as the U.S. and Europe prepared new sanctions against Moscow.

U.S. President Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to join forces to impose stronger measures to restrain Moscow. The White House said it would add names Monday of people close to President Vladimir Putin and firms they control to a list of Russians hit by sanctions over Ukraine, and also impose new restrictions on high tech exports.

The European Union is expected to follow suit by adding to its own list of targeted Russian people and firms, but Washington and Brussels have yet to reach agreement on wider measures designed to hurt the Russian economy more broadly.

In Donetsk, where pro-Russian rebels have proclaimed an independent “people’s republic,” gunmen seized the regional TV headquarters and ordered it to start broadcasting a Russian state television channel.

Obama said during a visit to Malaysia that restraining Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine would depend on Washington and its allies finding a unified position on tighter sanctions.

“We’re going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified rather than this is just a U.S.-Russian conflict,” Obama told reporters.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said the new U.S. measures would be imposed Monday, mostly focused on adding to a list of those barred from travel to the U.S. and hit by asset freezes.

An international agreement reached this month calls on Ukrainian rebels to vacate occupied buildings, but Obama said Russia had not “lifted a finger” to push its allies to comply. “In fact, there’s strong evidence that they’ve been encouraging the activities in eastern and southern Ukraine.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent unarmed monitors to try to encourage compliance with the peace deal. The pro-Russian rebels seized eight European monitors three days ago and have been holding them at their most heavily-fortified redoubt in the town of Slaviansk.

One, a Swede, was permitted to leave Sunday after OSCE negotiators arrived to discuss their release. A separatist spokeswoman said the prisoner had been let go on medical grounds, but there were no plans to free the rest.

The captives, from Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Sweden, were paraded before reporters Sunday and said they were in good health.

“We have no indication when we will be sent home to our countries,” the group’s leader, German Colonel Axel Schneider, told reporters as armed men in camouflage fatigues and balaclavas looked on. “We wish from the bottom of our hearts to go back to our nations as soon and as quickly as possible. ”Germany denounced the appearance and said Moscow must press their captors to free the prisoners.

“The public parading of the OSCE observers and Ukrainian security forces as prisoners is revolting and blatantly hurts the dignity of the victims,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.

“It is an infringement of every rule of behavior and standards that are made for tense situations like this. Russia has a duty to influence the separatists so that the detained members of the OSCE mission are freed as soon as possible.”

The OSCE, a European security body, includes Russia. Its main Ukraine mission was approved by Moscow, although the Europeans held in Slaviansk were on a separate OSCE-authorized mission that did not require Russia’s consent.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the rebel leader who has declared himself mayor of Slaviansk, has described them as prisoners of war and said the separatists were open to exchanging them for rebels in Ukrainian custody.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 28, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Pro-Russian rebels Sunday paraded European monitors they are holding in eastern Ukraine, freeing one but saying they had no plans to release another seven as the U.S. and Europe prepared new sanctions against Moscow.

U.S. President Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to join forces to impose stronger measures to restrain Moscow. The White House said it would add names Monday of people close to President Vladimir Putin and firms they control to a list of Russians hit by sanctions over Ukraine, and also impose new restrictions on high tech exports.

The European Union is expected to follow suit by adding to its own list of targeted Russian people and firms, but Washington and Brussels have yet to reach agreement on wider measures designed to hurt the Russian economy more broadly.

Obama said during a visit to Malaysia that restraining Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambitions in Ukraine would depend on Washington and its allies finding a unified position on tighter sanctions.


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