Obama urges end to Ukraine standoff

Obama hailed Ukraine’s “remarkable restraint” in facing what Washington calls Russian meddling in its neighbor

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U.S. President Barack Obama called on his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday to urge pro-Russia groups to lay down arms in Ukraine amid rising tensions.

Obama expressed “grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine,” in a phone call requested by Moscow, the White House said.

“The president emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized.

“Russia’s growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist,” the White House said.

The call was part of a series of phone calls between the two powers.

In a recent conversation, Obama “reiterated the importance of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine's border in order to defuse tensions,” Agence France-Presse reported.

He also hailed Ukraine’s “remarkable restraint” in facing what Washington calls Russian meddling in its neighbor.

Putin told Obama earlier that charges of interference were “unfounded.”

The U.S. previously hinted that further sanctions could be imposed against Russia’s economy, to punish what is viewed as a Moscow sponsored pro-Russia violence in eastern Ukraine.

The Western power also said it was consulting its European allies on the matter.

The European Union’s foreign ministers announced expanding the list of 33 Russian and Ukrainian officials and business heads that faced the freezing of assets and visa bans due to their role in the Ukrainian crisis. However, the block did not impose harsher punishments ahead of the Geneva meeting of EU, U.S., Russian and Ukrainian officials, set to take place this week.

Pro-Russian separatists ignored an ultimatum given to them on Monday to leave government buildings they had occupied in eastern Ukraine, and seized more buildings, as the government failed to execute a military crackdown it threatened earlier, Reuters reported.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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