The Cable

No New Economic Sanctions on Russia as Cease-Fire in Ukraine Collapsing

As increased fighting between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian separatists threatens to smash the Sept. 5 cease-fire agreement between the two parties, European leaders appear unlikely to slap Moscow with additional economic sanctions, even as Russia continues its military buildup along its Ukrainian border. Speaking in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out imposing new ...

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As increased fighting between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian separatists threatens to smash the Sept. 5 cease-fire agreement between the two parties, European leaders appear unlikely to slap Moscow with additional economic sanctions, even as Russia continues its military buildup along its Ukrainian border.

Speaking in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out imposing new economic sanctions,  the European Union’s main source of leverage over Moscow now that gas supplies are in place for the winter. On Thursday, Russia signed a deal with Ukraine and Europe to resume gas shipments to Ukraine, which — if fully implemented — would remove the possibility that Moscow could cut off gas supplies mid-winter.

However, Merkel floated the possibility of issuing travel restrictions on pro-Russian politicians recently elected in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia has annexed. The West has refused to recognize the polls, and Merkel said that the EU could prevent Crimean politicians from attending a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels next week.

"Beyond that, further economic sanctions are not planned at the moment; we are focusing on the winter and the humanitarian situation there and how to get a real cease-fire," she said.

At a separate appearance in Berlin, EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini said that the bloc’s foreign ministers will consider levying additional sanctions against Russia at their regular Monday meeting but emphasized that the focus now is on delivering political and economic support to Kiev.

Meanwhile, separatists backed by Russia have been shelling the area around Donetsk, the rebels’ stronghold, and other parts of eastern Ukraine, renewing calls for the West to take a tougher stance with Moscow. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko alleged that Russians are fighting along side separatists and that Russia has moved military equipment, including tanks and howitzers, across its border with Ukraine.

"Russian mercenaries are strengthening and reinforcing [rebel] forces near the front line," Lysenko said at a military briefing in Kiev according to Reuters.

At a briefing in Italy, NATO’s top commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said the Russian military presence in Ukraine is growing. He also said that instances of interaction between NATO forces and the Russian military are on the rise.

"In the air those interactions have multiplied, by some accounts, as many as three times … We now see larger (Russian) forces participating, as opposed to one or two bombers in the past," Breedlove said.

He also warned that Russia was fortifying positions in Crimea, and, in a throwback to the Cold War, said that some Russian forces "capable of being nuclear" were arriving on the peninsula.

The deterioration of the cease-fire came as President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Beijing at the Asia-Pacific summit.

"Putin has talked to President Obama several times. They talked briefly, yet touched on the issues of bilateral relations, Ukraine, Syria and Iran," Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said according to RT.

Bernadette Meehan, the spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said in a statement that the two men spoke "on three occasions throughout the day, for a total of approximately 15-20 minutes."

The renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine also comes days after China and Russia agreed to a second, historic gas deal that would lessen Russia’s dependence on the European market for its natural gas exports. By boosting exports to China, Moscow may eventually remove the carrot at the end of Europe’s stick.

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