Francois Hollande has condemned Russia's military presence in Ukraine, while Russia has assured Europe it will keep winter gas supply commitments.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk appealed to the United States, European Union and G7 countries on Thursday to freeze Russian assets until Russian forces withdraw from Ukrainian territory.
At a government meeting, Yatseniuk asked “the US, EU and G7 countries to freeze Russian assets and finances until Russia withdraws armed forces, equipment and agents”.
French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that it would be “intolerable and unacceptable” if it was proved true that Russian troops had entered Ukrainian territory.
“Europe will maintain [sanctions], even increase them, if the escalation increases. I don’t want it because it is neither in Russia’s nor our interest,” Hollande told an annual conference of French diplomats in Paris.
“Russia cannot hope to be a 21st-century power yet not respect the rules.”
Separatists backed by Russian soldiers have entered the town of Novoazovsk in southeastern Ukraine, a pro-government militia fighter said on Thursday.
A military source said the separatist forces had also taken Savur-Mohyla, a hill east of Donetsk which gives strategic command over large areas of the territory.
The sudden reverses for the Ukrainian military appeared to confirm the arrival of Russian forces to support the separatists, who have in recent weeks been under pressure from government forces in their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, the east’s two main cities.
“There is military equipment in Novoazovsk which came across the border two days ago from Russia,” the fighter, from the so-called Azov battalion which supports the Ukrainian army, told Reuters by telephone.
“The equipment is carrying the flags of the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] rebels but they are regular Russian forces,” said the fighter, who did not wish to be named.
US ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, said in aTweet: “Russian supplied tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and multiple rocket launchers have been insufficient to defeat Ukraine’ armed forces. So now an increasing number of Russian troops are intervening directly in fighting on Ukrainian territory ... [sic]”
“Russia has also sent its newest air defence systems including the SA-22 into eastern Ukraine & is now directly involved in the fighting,” he said.
European gas supply
On Wednesday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak dismissed Ukraine’s claims that Moscow plans to block gas transit to Europe, saying the assertions were groundless.
His comments were published after Yatseniuk said earlier on Wednesday that Kiev knew of Russian plans to halt gas flows this winter to Europe.
Novak said in a statement that Russia will put forth “maximum efforts” to fulfil gas contract obligations to European importers regardless of political issues.
He also said Russia is open for “constructive dialogue” on energy with interested partners, including Ukraine. – Reuters