By Bertrand De Saisset, Stephen Collinson,and Anna Smolchenko ,AFP
The Group of Seven (G-7) rich countries have agreed to start slapping fresh sanctions on Moscow as early as Monday over the worsening Ukraine crisis amid Western fears of an imminent Russian invasion. International tensions were mounting Saturday over the situation in the ex-Soviet republic, where sporadic fighting between pro-Kremlin rebels and Ukrainian security forces flared this week. Russian warplanes violated Ukraine’s airspace several times on Thursday and Friday, the Pentagon said. Russia has also begun new drills on the border, where it has tens of thousands of troops massed. A Western diplomat warned: “We no longer exclude a Russian military intervention in Ukraine in the coming days.” The diplomatic source noted that Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, “has been recalled urgently to Moscow” for consultations. Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, on Saturday cut short a trip to Rome after seeing Pope Francis, skipping a Sunday canonization ceremony for popes John Paul II and John XXIII “because of the situation,” his spokeswoman told AFP.
OSCE Team Taken Hostage On the ground in east Ukraine, Kiev’s Western-backed government is waging an offensive against pro-Moscow rebels holding a string of towns. A 13-member OSCE military observer team sent into Ukraine to monitor an April 17 Geneva accord designed to de-escalate the situation was being held hostage by rebels in the flashpoint town of Slavyansk. The chief of the insurgents’ self-styled “Republic of Donetsk,” Denis Pushilin, accused them of being “NATO spies” and said they would only be released in a prisoner swap for militants detained by Ukrainian forces. An AFP journalist in Slavyansk said a barricade around the building where the team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was being held had been greatly fortified with sandbags and a machine-gun.