Russia Still Poses Threat to Ukraine, U.S. Official Nuland Says

  • Nuland urged implementation of Minsk truce agreements
  • OSCE sees continued strengthening of pro-Russian militants

Sanctions against Russia will stay in place until truce accords are fully implemented in Ukraine as “outside aggression is still a great threat to this country,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in Kiev.

Russia and “its proxies” in Ukraine’s two easternmost regions must stick to peace accords signed in Minsk, Belarus, after all-night talks between German, French, Russian and Ukrainian leaders, Nuland told the Yalta European Strategy conference Saturday. She called on pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions to hold local elections next month under Ukrainian laws, monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The U.S. and the European Union say Russia is stoking the military conflict, in which almost 8,000 people have been killed, by sending personnel and weapons over the border into the two Ukrainian regions. Russia denies any involvement. The 17-month-old conflict has driven a wedge between the Kremlin and its former Cold War foes as western countries imposed sanctions against Russia.

“If and when Minsk is fully implemented, including return of Ukraine’s sovereignty to its border, we can begin to roll back some sanctions, but if Minsk is further violated there will be more,” Nuland said, adding that the U.S. will push the EU to increase sanctions as well. “We need to use the carrot of sanctions rollback and stick of further sanctions.”

A push to follow through on the Minsk commitments is intensifying as Germany and France, which helped broker the deal in February, step up their diplomacy. Four leaders plan to meet again on Oct. 2 in Paris as the latest cease-fire, announced two weeks ago, provides “cautious optimism,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Friday.

Corruption and infighting among Ukrainians pose an “equal threat” to Ukraine, Nuland said. “There must be zero tolerance for oligarchs that do not pay taxes, zero tolerance for bribery, for graft, zero tolerance for anyone who would use violence to achieve political means in this country,” she said.

Pro-Russian militants violated truce accords five times overnight, wounding a Ukrainian soldier, according to the nation’s military press office.

The OSCE, which monitors the truce, sees the “presence of a large amount of ammunition” in rebel-held areas in Ukraine, Secretary General Lamberto Zannier told the same gathering in Kiev Saturday. While the OSCE can’t say where the weapons are from, they are the same equipment that Russian forces use, according to Zannier.

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