WASHINGTON: The United States said Monday that Russia was continuing to support the pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, despite U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing it for its alleged interference in its neighbor.
“There is evidence that Russia continues to allow the free flow of weapons, funds, and fighters across its borders and President [Vladimir] Putin’s next steps are still not clear,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a speech in Washington.
Lew said the United States had worked with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and its G-7 partners to coordinate a response to the crisis and provide Ukraine with financial and technical assistance.
“Our goal was to impose a cost on Russia for its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea and to deter Russian military intervention in Ukraine,” he said, according to remarks prepared for an event at the Center of Strategic and International Studies.
Lew said the Treasury’s coordinated and precise sanctions had put “enormous pressure” on Russia but caused only limited collateral damage to the U.S., European and global economies.
President Barack Obama, he said, “has given us the authority to take even more powerful action if Russia continues to support armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.”
Russia has insisted it is not destabilizing Ukraine and has demanded that Kiev halt its military operations in the eastern part of the country. Fighting in the region has left nearly 200 dead – soldiers, rebels and civilians – since it broke out on April 13.
Hundreds of armed insurgents attacked a border guards’ camp in eastern Ukraine, and at least five rebels were killed in the ensuing clash, a spokesman for the guards said Monday.
Rebels in uniform near the Luhansk base promised safety for the officers if they surrendered and laid down their arms. The pro-Russian insurgents, who have seized government and police buildings across eastern Ukraine, have waged increasingly aggressive attacks on government-held checkpoints and garrisons in an attempt to seize weapons and ammunition from Ukrainian forces.
Serhiy Astakhov, the spokesman for the border guard service, told The Associated Press that a preliminary assessment indicated that five rebels were killed and eight injured in the attack on the camp in Luhansk, a major city not far from the Russian border. He also said seven servicemen were injured, three seriously.
The initial attack by about 100 insurgents was met by firing from the border guards, and the number of attackers swelled to around 400 a few hours later. Astakhov said the fighting was continuing and that the Ukrainian forces had sent an airplane to the area, but had still been unable to quell the attack.
Also Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesperson told reporters that Cameron would hold rare face-to-face talks with Putin on Friday in France, at which he will urge Putin to help de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.
The meeting, which Cameron requested, will be held on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings in Normandy and is the first time the two have met since Prince Charles sparked a diplomatic spat by likening Putin to Adolf Hitler.
“It’s an important opportunity ... to set out the importance of a dialogue between the Russian government and the new Ukrainian government following the presidential elections,” Cameron’s spokesman said, saying the vote offered a chance to de-escalate the situation.
Britain has repeatedly condemned Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and officials said the meeting with Putin did not signify a return to “business as usual” with Moscow.
It was, they said, a chance to gauge Putin’s reaction to the election of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who will attend the D-Day commemorations and a lunch for world leaders.
No formal meeting between him and Putin is scheduled.