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US President Barack Obama Carolyn Kaster

Obama: If Russia doesn't play its part, there will be consequences

The US Presidents aid that Russia has failed to respect an agreement to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama accused Russia today of failing to respect an agreement to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, the latest salvo in the Cold War-like duel between Washington and Moscow over the future of the ex-Soviet nation.

Obama said Washington was ready to slap fresh sanctions on Moscow, a day after Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, warned that it was ready to strike if its interests were attacked.

“So far at least we have seen them not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva,” Obama said in Tokyo at the start of a four-nation tour of Asia.

Instead we continue to see malicious, armed men taking over buildings, harassing folks who are disagreeing with them, destabilising the region and we haven’t seen Russia step out and discouraging it.

“On the other side you have seen the government in Kiev taking very concrete steps, introducing amnesty law, offering the whole range of reforms with respect to the constitution, that are consistent with what we discussed in Geneva.”

Ukraine Pro-Ukrainian supporters seen through a Ukrainian flag during a rally AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

If Russia did not play its part, there would be “consequences and we will ramp up further sanctions,” he warned.

Under the deal struck between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU in Geneva last week, militias in Ukraine were due disarm and give up control of seized state property.

But while Washington and Kiev have put the onus on pro-Kremlin militants holding buildings in the east, Moscow said the responsibility fell to pro-Western nationalists camping out in Kiev.

Geneva accord

The Geneva accord was aimed at easing the crisis that first flared in Ukraine in November, when its pro-Kremlin president backed out of an agreement to bring the country closer to the EU, sparking protests.

The protests eventually forced the president from power in late February and led to the installation of a pro-Western team in Kiev, prompting Russia to send troops into and annex Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Pro-Kremlin militants have since taken over state buildings in nearly a dozen towns across Ukraine’s southeast, which has deep cultural and historical ties to Russia.

Kiev and Washington say Moscow is supporting the militants, allegations that Russia has denied.

Ukraine AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

‘We would certainly respond’

The crisis in Ukraine has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with the Cold War echoing in the rhetoric.

On Thursday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state-controlled RT television that if Russia or its interests are attacked, “we would certainly respond”.

“If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law,” he said, referring to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Lavrov said “The American are running the show” in Kiev, saying that a new offensive announced by the government to dislodge the rebels came immediately after a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden to Kiev.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Lavrov’s claims “ludicrous”, saying they were not based on “what is happening on the ground”.

Journalists held

The detention by the rebels of two journalists – an American working for VICE News, Simon Ostrovsky, and a Ukrainian activist, Irma Krat – in Slavyansk have done nothing to ease the mounting tensions.

The rebel leader in the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, called Ostrovsky a “journalist provocateur” and promised “we will free him in due course”.

The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned about the reports of a kidnapping” of Ostrovsky and called for Russia to organise his immediate release.

Slavyansk was also the source of gunfire that damaged a Ukrainian military reconnaissance plane on Tuesday, and the site where two bodies were found that Kiev’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said had been “brutally tortured”.

One of the two victims was believed to be a local politician and member of Turchynov’s party, which the president used as justification to relaunch the military operations against the insurgents.

Russia’s gas supplies to Ukraine and Europe have become another source of tensions.

Town Hall

This morning it is being reported that the Ukraine military has ‘liberated’ a town hall in eastern Mariupol.

It is also being reported that a Ukraine army base in the east was attacked overnight and a soldier wounded.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Putin’s face appears on coin marking Crimea’s annexation>

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