Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine’s allies are stoking the five-month conflict and should back peace talks, even as President Vladimir Putin sought to calm concern over remarks his army could “take Kiev” in a matter of weeks. Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Geletey said defenses must be strengthened in the face of a “full-scale invasion” by Russia.
“Unfortunately, the rise of the ‘party of war’ in Ukraine is being actively encouraged by Washington and some European capitals and more and more frequently from NATO headquarters in Brussels,” Lavrov told reporters today in Moscow.
Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe accuse Russia of dispatching soldiers and backing militias to open a new front in a conflict the United Nations estimates has cost at least 2,600 lives. Russia, which is facing further sanctions as early as this week over the unrest, has repeatedly denied involvement. Obama will visit Tallinn, Estonia, on his way to this week’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in the U.K.
The ruble slid to a record against the dollar for a third session as the intensified conflict raised the likelihood that Russia will face wider European Union penalties. It traded 0.5 percent weaker at 37.49 as of 3:42 p.m. 03.09 in Moscow.
Lavrov said any move by Ukraine to join NATO would upset peace talks that are due to continue Sept. 5 in Minsk, Belarus. He was responding to comments by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk last week that lawmakers should vote on abandoning the nation’s non-aligned status to join NATO.
Russia will revise its military doctrine to counter new threats, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported today, citing Security Council Deputy Secretary Mikhail Popov.
Obama is scheduled to meet the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, three former Soviet republics that are now part of the military alliance. He’ll then head on to Cardiff, Wales, where NATO is gathering amid the Ukrainian conflict and an escalating threat from Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.
In Brussels, the European Commission pledged to propose a second round of economic penalties within the week to punish Russia over Ukraine. The bloc stayed united on previous measures against Russia and “will do so again with a new wave of sanctions,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said today.
Italy’s Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini, who’s taking over as the EU’s foreign-policy chief in December, said the 28-member bloc must apply pressure to find a political solution.
“We need to respond in the strongest possible way,” she told reporters in Brussels.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday that Europeans won’t accept Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine.
“Being able to change borders in Europe without consequences, and attacking other countries with troops, is in my view a far greater danger than having to accept certain disadvantages for the economy,” Merkel said in Berlin.
Regular Russian troops are replacing insurgent forces, with about 1,600 soldiers advancing into the region, according to the government in Kiev. Russian troops and rebels number 10,000 to 15,000, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told TV channel ICTV. Government troops killed 50 rebels in past 24 hours, while 15 servicemen died, according to Lysenko.
Kremlin foreign-policy aide Yuri Ushakov said Russia hadn’t sent troops to Ukraine and sought to calm nerves over comments attributed to Putin in a report yesterday in La Repubblica. Putin told European Commission President Jose Barroso that: “If I want, I could take Kiev in two weeks,” according to the Italian newspaper, which didn’t identify a source for the information.
The remarks were taken out of context, Ushakov told reporters today in Moscow, saying that the disclosure of details from the conversation is undiplomatic and “unworthy of a serious political player.”