EU gives Russia ultimatum over Ukraine

The European Union gave Russia three days to stop a separatist rebellion in Ukraine or face deeper sanctions as the government in Kiev prepared to extend a cease- fire originally due to expire tonight.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels demanded separatists, whom Ukraine and its allies say are backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, return border checkpoints, release hostages and start talks to implement a peace plan drawn up by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko by June 30. Failure to do so will result in “further significant restrictive measures” against Russia, the leaders said in a statement.

Trying to bolster solidarity from richer nations to Ukraine’s west against what it calls Russian aggression, Poroshenko also signed a free-trade pact with the 28-member bloc, which he said showed Ukraine’s “sovereign choice in favor of future membership of the EU.”

“What a great day, maybe the most important day for my country after independence day,” Poroshenko said after signing the agreement in Brussels today. “The external aggression faced by Ukraine gives another strong reason for this crucial step.”

Truce extended

Accusing Putin’s government of allowing weapons, manpower and other support to flow across its border into Ukraine, the U.S. also is preparing sanctions against Russia on technology aimed at exploiting and producing oil and gas products, a major part of that country’s economy, according to three people briefed on the plans.

Ukraine will prolong the week-long truce, which it says has been repeatedly flouted by pro-Russian separatists, by 72 hours from an original plan to end it at 10 p.m. tonight, two European government officials said. The officials asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

“I’ll have to conduct consultations with the minister of defense, the defense council, the heads of the General Staff and other people from the national defense and security council,” Poroshenko said in Brussels before he returned to Kiev. “Time will be up today at 10 p.m., so the decision will be taken today.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the prime mover behind the crafting of the ultimatum, an official from the bloc said. In charge of the EU’s largest economy and its longest-serving leader as well, Merkel said yesterday that Poroshenko’s account would be crucial to shaping a response.

‘Third-stage’ penalties

Diplomatic solutions are preferable, “but if nothing else helps, sanctions can be put back on the agenda, and this time they would be third-stage,” Merkel said in the speech to the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin on June 25. Third stage refers to the EU’s threat of sanctions on broad sectors of the Russian economy.

The EU has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 61 people connected with unrest in Ukraine and Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March. It has stopped short of broader curbs on investment and trade that might damage the European economy as it shakes off the effects of the debt crisis.

The government in Kiev blames Putin for supporting rebels and stoking violence the United Nations says has killed more than 400 people in the country of more than 40 million.

The rejection of the free-trade accord by the man Poroshenko replaced, Viktor Yanukovych, triggered street protests in Kiev last November that ousted the then pro-Russian government after more than 100 people died in street clashes.

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