Diplomatic dust is daily rising between the United States of America and Russia, with the latest seeing Moscow accusing Washington of bringing back “Iron Curtain” policies in the fierce showdown over Ukraine, while the West revealed its new sanctions included measures against Russia’s military chief.
The furious escalation in language from Russia underlined the Cold War echoes of the crisis as the United States and Europe set in motion sanctions to hammer powerful Russian figures and firms close to President Vladimir Putin.
The increasing geopolitical tensions were doing nothing to ease the situation on the ground in east Ukraine, where sporadic violence is unabated and negotiations to free seven OSCE inspectors held by rebels continued.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov tore into the United States for leading the sanctions charge on Monday, especially for its decision to curb hi-tech exports to Russia that could have military uses.
“All of that is a blow to our high-tech enterprises and industries,” Ryabkov said in an interview with online newspaper Gazeta.ru.
“This is a revival of a system created in 1949 when Western countries essentially lowered an ‘Iron Curtain’, cutting off supplies of high-tech goods to the USSR and other countries.”
The European Union, meanwhile, revealed that General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces and the country’s deputy defence minister, was one of 15 Russians and Ukrainians targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban in bloc’s latest blacklist.
Russia’s foreign ministry responded by saying the European bloc was “doing Washington’s bidding with new unfriendly gestures towards Russia”.
The White House on Monday slapped sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 companies close to Putin, while Canada added nine names and two banks and Japan said it was denying visas to 23 targeted Russians.
An outraged Kremlin has vowed “painful” retaliation against Washington for the measures.
But for all the fury, there was no sign the sanctions were having any immediate effect on getting Russia to use its influence to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.
On Monday, a mayor in east Ukraine’s biggest city of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes, was shot in the back by an unknown gunman, leaving him in a critical condition.
Kernes, who is Jewish, was flown Tuesday to Israel for medical treatment, his spokesman said.
Fourteen people were also seriously hurt on Monday when pro-Moscow militants wielding bricks, bats and knives attacked their march for Ukrainian unity in the city of Donetsk.
Kalashnikov-toting militants the same day seized the town hall of Kostyantynivka — the latest of more than a dozen towns held by the pro-Russian rebels.
Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, has repeatedly said it has no plans to invade the ex-Soviet republic.
Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu repeated that assurance in a telephone conversation with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon said.
Shoigu again denied US accusations that covert Russian forces were already deployed in Ukraine to sow unrest, and urged Washington to tone down its rhetoric on the crisis.
Hagel in turn called for an end to Russia’s “destabilising influence inside Ukraine and warned that continued aggression would further isolate Russia and result in more diplomatic and economic pressure”.
The US defence secretary also asked for Moscow’s help in securing the release of the seven OSCE inspectors held by pro-Russian militants in Slavyansk.
An AFP journalist in Slavyansk said early Tuesday there was still no sign of the captive inspectors leaving the occupied town hall, where they were being kept under armed guard.
The OSCE has been negotiating for several days to free the seven Europeans, who were seized on Friday along with a Swede, who was released on Sunday because he suffers from diabetes.
The local rebel leader has given the OSCE a list of pro-Russian militants detained by Ukrainian authorities who he wants freed in a prisoner swap.
Kiev’s soldiers are surrounding the flashpoint town in a bid to prevent reinforcements reaching militants there.