Ukraine PM: Russia Wants to Start World War III

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is accusing Russia of wanting to occupy Ukraine “militarily and politically,” as both Kyiv and Moscow mass troops close to their mutual border.

Yatsenyuk warned Friday that Russia’s actions could lead to a wider military conflict in Europe. He told an interim Cabinet meeting that Moscow “wants to start World War III.”

U.S. President Barack Obama also criticized what he called Russia’s “further meddling” in eastern Ukraine, where armed, pro-Russian separatists have occupied government buildings.

Speaking in Seoul, Obama said he would talk to “key European leaders” later Friday about implementing wider sanctions in the event Russia further escalates the situation.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin must decide whether he wants to see his country’s already fragile economy weakened further because he failed to act diplomatically in Ukraine.

His comments echoed that of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Thursday that Moscow is making “an expensive mistake” by failing to restrain the separatists.

Underscoring the threat to Moscow’s economy, credit agency Standard and Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating to BBB- . The agency said it is concerned about increased capital outflows from Russia, and said the rating could be cut further if sanctions are tightened.

Both Obama and Kerry have accused Russia of failing to uphold the four-party deal it signed last week calling for all parties in Ukraine to lay down their weapons and vacate public buildings. Kerry said Moscow has not taken “a single step” to de-escalate tensions since the deal was signed in Geneva.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday blamed the West for raising tensions, saying the Pro-Russian militants would only lay down their weapons if the Ukrainian government first clears out its own protesters in the capital.

Lavrov also denounced Kyiv’s security operation to clear the pro-Russian militants, calling it a “bloody crime.” Ukrainian officials on Thursday said the crackdown killed up to five people.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is vowing the operation will continue. On his Facebook page, Avakov said “terrorists should be on guard 24 hours a day,” but that civilians have nothing to fear.

The flurry of diplomatic exchanges come amid rising tensions along the Ukraine-Russian border, where a huge Russian military force is gathered. A Ukrainian diplomat at the United Nations told VOA that Moscow has doubled its military presence on the border to about 80,000 troops.

 

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