Russian attacks may incite further sanctions

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an emergency security meeting to defend against what he called a “de facto” Russian incursion after separatists gained ground in intensified fighting.

Poroshenko canceled a state visit to Turkey to coordinate Ukraine’s military response to the “sharp deterioration” of events in rebel-held territory, he said on his website today. Stocks and futures from Moscow to New York extended declines.

France and Germany threatened President Vladimir Putin with tougher sanctions after pro-Russian insurgents widened their attacks, taking several towns outside their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, including near the Sea of Azov. That opened a new front and a seaborne supply channel for the rebels, said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. The U.S. said Russia may be directing the attacks, falling short of calling it an invasion.

“The invasion by Putin of the regular Russian army is a fait accompli,” Herashchenko said on his Facebook page today. The Foreign Ministry in Lithuania, a former Soviet satellite state now in the European Union, said it “strongly condemns the invasion of Ukrainian territory by the Russian Federation military forces, which has obviously begun.”

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The five months of unrest have sparked the worst standoff between Russia and its former Cold War foes in two decades and unleashed sanctions on both sides. Violence surged a day after Putin and Poroshenko met in Minsk, Belarus. Putin hailed the talks as a step toward peace, though he said cease-fire terms weren’t discussed because Russia isn’t a party to the conflict.

Putin used that meeting in Minsk, which included EU officials, to gauge whether Ukraine’s leadership was prepared militarily for an outright invasion, Ievgen Vorobiov, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw who studies Ukraine, said by phone.

“I think he got the message from Poroshenko’s and the EU’s willingness to negotiate, even on such superficial issues as hostage exchanges, that they weren’t prepared,” Vorobiov said. “So he decided to act more quickly than Poroshenko expected. This is the beginning of an open Russian invasion using regular army units. This is war.”

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk issued a plea for international help in defending against Russia’s army, which he said “is armed to the teeth.” Sanctions by the U.S. and the EU aren’t working, Yatsenyuk told reporters in Kiev, urging a global freeze on Russian assets and financial transactions until Putin withdraws all his troops.

Russia, which denies involvement in a conflict that’s claimed more than 2,000 lives, faces more sanctions if the escalation of fighting continues, according to French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Russia can’t at the same time aspire to be an accepted power of the 21st century and not respect the rules,” Hollande said at an annual meeting of French ambassadors in Paris today. Merkel said yesterday that further penalties may be needed “to give added political weight to our demands.”

Jen Psaki, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, cited the reports of fresh fighting, telling reporters in Washington that “these incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely under way in Donetsk and Luhansk.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said yesterday “this information doesn’t correspond with reality.” Today, Peskov declined to comment on Ukrainian claims of an invasion or rebel statements about Russian soldiers joining the war.

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