President Barack Obama and the four major U.S. allies in Europe intend to adopt “new measures” against Russia over the fighting in Ukraine, the French president’s office said.
Obama spoke with the leaders of France, the U.K., Germany and Italy by telephone today, as the Ukrainian government made further advances in the eastern part of the country against pro-Russian rebels. A spokesman for the separatists said their leader had traveled to Moscow for an unspecified period.
“Despite numerous appeals to President Putin, Russia has not effectively put pressure on the separatists to force them to negotiate, and has not taken the concrete steps asked of it to control the Ukraine-Russia border,” according to a statement from President Francois Hollande’s office in Paris. “The five heads of state and government confirmed, under these conditions, their intention to adopt new measures toward Russia.”
The U.S. says the crash of Malaysian Air Flight 17 on July 17 that killed all 298 passengers and crew was probably caused by rebels using a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. The disaster has deepened what was already the worst standoff between the U.S. along with European allies and Russia since the end of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies his government is helping the separatists.
The other leaders taking part in today’s call were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, according to the French statement.
Fighting near the Malaysian Air crash site in east Ukraine again prevented Dutch and Australian investigators from reaching the area as Merkel said Europe must agree to new Russia sanctions by tomorrow.
Experts from the Netherlands, Australia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe turned back after trying for a second day to get to where the plane went down because of fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebels. Forensic workers returned to Donetsk “due to security reasons,” the OSCE said.
Ukrainian government troops entered the towns of Torez, near where Flight 17 crashed, and Shakhtarsk, in a push to encircle the pro-Russian rebels holed up in Donetsk and Horlivka, the Defense Ministry in Kiev said on its website.
Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said Germany wants the European Union to agree to new sanctions aimed at Russia tomorrow. The EU earlier this month promised to consider its strongest sanctions yet against the Kremlin over its purported aiding of the rebels.
Merkel is prepared to interrupt her holiday to take part in an EU summit on Ukraine if necessary, government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz told reporters today in Berlin.
Representatives of the 28 EU governments were due to meet in Brussels today with the aim of agreeing on which of Putin’s business associates will be added to the sanctions list. Those names will be published tomorrow at the earliest.
“It is crucial to put political pressure on Moscow,” Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said today in Belgrade. “It is very important for Moscow to move from words to deeds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today in Moscow that sanctions against his country won’t achieve their goal and that Russia will become self-sufficient.
Russia’s Micex Index dropped 1.9 percent to 1,361.94 at the close in Moscow. The ruble weakened 1 percent to 35.5014 versus the dollar.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the shooting down of Flight 17 “may amount to a war crime.”
“Every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are,” Pillay said in an e-mailed statement from Geneva today.
Ukrainian forces have surrounded Horlivka, a city about 40 kilometers northeast of the regional capital of Donetsk where insurgents retreated after abandoning other positions this month, the Defense Ministry in Kiev said. Donetsk has a population of 1 million.
Alexander Borodai, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, left for Moscow “to solve humanitarian questions,” Dmitriy Gau, a spokesman for the group, told Bloomberg News. Gau provided no information on how long Borodai would stay in the Russian capital.
“At the moment, the crash site is under DPR’s control, but there’s a firefight in close proximity to the place where the Boeing fell,” Gau said. He said the DPR forces did not hinder the international mission from reaching the crash site, but the group stopped after seeing “military action.”
The U.S. State Department released photos by e-mail it said were evidence of Russian forces firing artillery and rockets across the border at Ukraine’s army, following similar allegations on July 24.
The four images purportedly show ground scarring from multiple rocket launchers on the Russian side pointed toward Ukraine and what the U.S. says are corresponding impacts on Ukrainian territory. They also show self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units and blast craters near Ukrainian forces, according to the State Department.
Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky, a Defense Ministry spokesman in Kiev, said today that anti-tank missiles were fired at Ukrainian government positions from inside Russia at 8 p.m. yesterday.
Dutch and Australian investigators had planned to reach the crash site yesterday. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cited the “security situation” in the area around the site for the investigating team’s delay.
“During the morning, new information arrived and, based on that which indicated fighting in the area of the crash site, it was decided to not go to the crash site as it was too unsafe,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 194 people on the flight, told a news conference yesterday. “First signals are that there is heavy fighting.”