The White House announce a new round of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies, at the same time that the mayor of Ukraine's second-largest city struggles to survive after having been shot in the back.
Reuters reports that the new U.S.-imposed financial sanctions, just announced, will add seven citizens and 17 private companies to those already on the sanctioned list. These powerful individuals (said to be part of Vladimir Putin's "inner circle") face a number of restrictions, including bans on travel and international banking, with the hope that the threat to their business interest will pressure Putin to scale back operations in Ukraine, without targeting him directly.
Among those sanctioned are Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russia's state-owned oil company, Rosneft. Though they did not sanction the company directly, it's stock price has taken a hit today. However, they chose not to include the head of Russia's natural gas giant, Gazprom.
Washington is also likely to place some restrictions on high tech exports, but won't implement full sectoral bans, including avoiding a blow to the energy markets. However, President Barack Obama noted that more severe options remain on the table, saying "we are keeping in reserve additional steps that we could take should the situation escalate further."
EU leaders are also meeting today to discuss sanctions, and have hinted that they are poised to slap restrictions on another 15 people.
Will make a statement in Parliament today on #Ukraine and next steps on sanctions on Russia— William Hague (@WilliamJHague) April 28, 2014
Per the BBC, the U.S. and EU are somewhat at odds over the potential scope of additional sanctions, with EU leaders shying away from more severe financial punishment.
The announcement will follow another bout of unrest in east Ukraine. On Monday, armed separatists stormed a government building in Kostyantynivka.
Also on Monday morning, Mayor Hennady Kernes of Kharkiv was shot in the back, while swimming outdoors. The AP reports that he is now undergoing surgery, where doctors are "fighting for his life,"
Although, much of the violence seems to instigated by pro-Russian forces, it's not clear who would have targeted the mayor. Kernes was a strong ally to deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, and briefly fled the country after his ouster. He was even accused of organizing anti-Maidan demonstrators and sending them to Kiev, during the most violent days of fighting.
In addition to the occupation of government buildings and violence, kidnappings — a well-used tactic — have become more commonplace in east Ukraine. Over the weekend, separatists captured eight unarmed military watchers working for OSCE and forced them to issue a scripted press release. One has since been released for medical reasons, but the European community is not taking the incident lightly. Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement (translated from German by the BBC) that the public parading of the OSCE observers and Ukrainian security forces as prisoners is revolting and blatantly hurts the dignity of the victims."
Finally, even as the Western sanctions directly implicate Moscow in stirring the unrest, Russian official continue to insist they've had no hand in local affairs that the militia group currently rising up in the east, are homegrown. However, there's even more evidence now that Russia citizen and even Russian military members are involved. VICE News published video taken by journalist Simon Ostrovsky just hours before he arrested and held several days last week. The footage shows Ostrovsky asking armed separatists about their Russian ties. The men stressed that they are volunteers, but acknowledged that they are Russian citizens, even showing the camera their passports.