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Germany Says Ukraine Risks Return to Conflict With Separatists

Tuesday, 11 Nov 2014 06:27 AM

(For more on the Ukraine conflict, see EXT2.)

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Ukraine risks sliding back into fighting between government troops and separatist rebels, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned.

“We don’t want a return to the situation as it was two or three months ago,” Steinmeier told reporters at a foreign- policy conference in Berlin today. “Everything suggests that the parties are making renewed preparations for violent conflict. We have to prevent that.”

Steinmeier’s comments follow threats by the U.S., the U.K. and the European Union to tighten sanctions after they accused Russia of continuing to arm rebels in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where a cease-fire has crumbled in the past week. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who briefly met his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama at a summit in Beijing yesterday, has denied military involvement in the conflict.

The U.S. and its allies are stepping up criticism of Russia after a Nov. 2 election by the self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk raised tensions and threatened to plunge the region into open warfare. Russia said yesterday that sanctions imposed so far will help prevent its economy from growing next year.

Rebels in eastern Ukraine attacked government troops 13 times overnight with artillery, mortars and rifles, the National Security and Defense Council said on its Facebook account. Attacks resumed this morning on government troops holding the airport in the city of Donetsk, it said.

‘Grave Danger’

Russia’s actions pose a “grave danger to the rest of Europe,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday. Economic sanctions imposed on Russian individuals, companies and industries after Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March are having an effect and the U.K. will “keep upping the pressure,” he said.

“Russia’s illegal actions are destabilizing a sovereign state and violating its territorial integrity,” Cameron said in a speech in London’s financial district. “We shouldn’t need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries in Europe bully smaller countries.”

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the “costs to Russia will rise” if Putin ignores commitments signed under the cease-fire agreement Sept. 5 in Minsk, Belarus.

“If Russia is truly committed to Minsk and peace in Ukraine, it will stop fueling the fire with new weapons and support for separatists, and withdraw all Russian military personnel and equipment from Ukraine,” Psaki said.

Sanctions Warning

Their comments, made minutes apart, echoed those from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who told German lawmakers earlier that sanctions against the government could increase if the situation escalated militarily, according to Norbert Roettgen, a member of parliament from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, who was present at the closed-door meeting.

Andrei Purgin, deputy premier of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic visited the Federation Council in Russia’s upper house of parliament yesterday. He told the Russian senators that high turnout at the Nov. 2 votes “is a sign people trust the current authorities.”

“Purgin isn’t the first separatist representative to travel to Moscow, but his visit comes in the context of escalating violence,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said yesterday by e-mail. “Purgin’s visit points to what will probably follow afterward: the consolidation of separatist territorial control with Moscow’s support.”

Looming Recession

Purgin was joined in Moscow by Alexei Karyakin, chairman of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic’s Supreme Council. The rebels there will create a fully functioning state before deciding whether to try to join Russia, Karyakin said.

The sanctions have combined with low oil prices to push Russia to the verge of its second recession in five years. The central bank in Moscow said yesterday that the economy will probably stagnate in 2015.

In a bid to prop-up the sliding ruble, which is the world’s worst-performing currency against the dollar over the past three months with a 23 percent plunge, the bank eliminated the ruble’s trading band and said it would limit local-currency funding to ward off speculators. The currency weakened 1.6 percent to 46.6 against the dollar at 1 p.m. in Moscow.

At least 4,035 people have been killed and 9,336 wounded in the Ukraine conflict, according to United Nations estimates. Fighting is threatening to return to the same open warfare that broke out after the February ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych and the takeover of Crimea.

After Ukraine said Russia was moving troops across its border into rebel-held territory, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in a Nov. 8 statement that convoys of unmarked trucks and tanks were seen in the city of Donetsk and nearby Makeevka.

Those vehicles belong to the Donetsk People’s Republic, Russian state news service RIA Novosti reported, citing Eduard Basurin, a deputy commander for the insurgents. The column was moving for “tactical reasons,” he was quoted as saying.

--With assistance from Kateryna Choursina in Kiev.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Parkin in Berlin at bparkin@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Tony Halpin, Michael Winfrey

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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2014-27-11
Tuesday, 11 Nov 2014 06:27 AM
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