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Ukraine feared in Russia’s sights

Poland worries invasion near; Putin to retaliate on sanctions

By Stepan Kravchenko, Volodymyr Verbyany and David McQuaid Bloomberg News

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 5:14 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Voronezh, Russia, on Tuesday for a meeting with state officials. Putin said he has ordered the government to develop measures in response to Western sanctions.

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to prepare a response to U.S. and European sanctions as Poland warned that a renewed buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border raises the possibility of an invasion.

“Unfortunately, Russia has restored its combat readiness on the Ukraine border with more than a dozen battalion-sized combat groups,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said. “There’s a lot of equipment. This is the sort of thing one does to exert pressure or to invade.”

Putin is showing no sign of backing down over Ukraine since the U.S. and the European Union tightened sanctions last week, with Russia amassing forces on its neighbor’s border in the biggest military buildup since troops were withdrawn from the area in May.

Russia called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the situation in Ukraine, said Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador.

Ukraine expressed alarm about the new deployment of Russian forces on its frontier as it pressed an offensive against separatists in the east. The intensifying conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands, the U.N. agency for refugees said, with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow demanding an urgent humanitarian mission to eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said eastern Ukraine neared a “humanitarian catastrophe” and required immediate international assistance. Sikorski, whose country is among the EU nations seeking the toughest response to the Kremlin’s policy over Ukraine, said any incursion would be under the guise of a peacekeeping mission.

More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting so far. While Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the conflict, the U.S. and its EU allies blame Putin for failing to rein in the insurgency and stop the fighting.

Estonia, one of the three former Soviet republics in the EU, in March also warned that Putin may be planning to invade Ukraine after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine’s armed forces are pushing ahead with their campaign after the U.S. and the EU increased pressure on Putin over his backing for the rebels with an expansion of sanctions. Last month’s downing of Malaysia Air Flight 17, which the U.S. says was probably caused by a missile fired by the insurgents, has helped harden attitudes against Russia. The rebels and Putin’s government blame Ukrainian forces.

Japan imposed new sanctions Tuesday against Russia, but the penalties were more limited than those announced last month by the U.S.

The new measures adopted by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will freeze assets in Japan of two groups and 40 individuals involved in Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, including the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. They also will restrict imports of products made in Crimea.

The top Japanese government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said the measures were in line with those taken by other industrialized nations and particularly the European Union, which last month also announced a new round of sanctions that were less severe than those imposed by President Barack Obama’s administration.

Putin said the government has proposed a series of measures to retaliate against sanctions. Russia may limit or ban flights over Siberia by European carriers bound for Asia as a response, the Moscow-based Vedomosti newspaper reported Tuesday.

“Political instruments of pressure on the economy are unacceptable, they contradict all norms and rules,” Putin said Tuesday. Any retaliation “must be done extremely carefully to support producers and avoid harming consumers.”

Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March, has deployed 45,000 soldiers, 160 tanks and as many as 1,360 armored vehicles, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said. There also are 192 Russian warplanes and 137 military helicopters, as well as artillery systems and multiple rocket launchers, he said.

Three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 46 wounded in 24 hours, Lysenko said Tuesday, and 26 clashes were reported between government troops and rebels. Russian drones and helicopters had continued to violate Ukrainian airspace, he said.

The separatist forces, which now number about 15,000, up from 300 when the conflict started, hold less than half the territory they did four weeks ago, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said. More than 65 towns and villages in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine have been retaken, he said.

About half of Luhansk’s 465,000 inhabitants have evacuated the city because of the continuing fighting, City Council spokesman Oleksandr Savenko told Channel 112 television. The remaining 250,000 people are unable or unwilling to leave the rebel stronghold, he said.

Information for this article was contributed by Kateryna Choursina, Daria Marchak, Sangwon Yoon, Henry Meyer, James G. Neuger, Joseph Ciolli and Jeremy Herron of Bloomberg News and by Martin Fackler of The New York Times.

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