March 11, 2015 / 4:38 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. blacklists more Ukrainian rebels, expands non-lethal aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States announced $75 million in non-lethal aid for Ukraine on Wednesday and placed sanctions on a handful of Ukrainian separatists, a Russian bank and others after accusing Russian-backed rebels of breaking a European-brokered ceasefire.

Pro-Russian rebels observe the area at a front line outside the village of Molochnoye, north-east from Donetsk, March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The aid does not include the anti-tank, anti-air and other weapons requested by Ukraine and by lawmakers in both parties of the U.S. Congress who want a tougher response from President Barack Obama to claims by U.S. intelligence agencies of Russian tanks and artillery crossing into Ukraine.

Radios, unmanned aerial vehicles, counter-mortar radars, night vision devices, first aid kits, ambulances and other medical supplies are included in the aid package. About 200 unarmed Humvees and 30 with armor will also be delivered.

The announcement follows accusations by Ukraine and Western governments that Russia is sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire deal reached Feb. 12 in Minsk. The Kremlin denies the accusations.

Separately on Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s board signed off on a $17.5 billion four-year aid program for Ukraine, the second attempt in less than a year to pull the country’s economy back from the brink of bankruptcy. The program includes an immediate payment of $5 billion to help stabilize Ukraine’s listing economy.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about the new aid by telephone. “The vice president noted with concern the ongoing violations of the ceasefire by Russia-backed separatists”, said a White House statement.

One of the eight blacklisted separatists, Roman Lyagin, said he was not a fighter. “It’s the opposite. I do my best to stop the bloodshed,” he told Reuters, speaking from the separatist-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk.

The U.S. Treasury accused him of preventing voting in Ukraine’s May presidential election.


Aleksander Khodakovsky, a rebel leader, was also dismissive of the U.S. sanctions slapped against him. He said he had no bank accounts, was already sanctioned by the European Union and had nowhere to go beyond Russia and rebel-held areas.

“Why should I be worried?” he asked.

Khodakovsky, a defector from the Ukrainian state security service who is now Secretary of the Security Council of the so-called government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, was placed on the European Union’s sanctions list in July.

“Now with the Americans I have the full set,” he said.

The sanctioned bank, Moscow-registered Russian National Commercial Bank (RNCB), last year became the first Russian bank to open its doors in Crimea after the region’s annexation. Russia’s Interfax news agency, which treats Crimea as part of Russia, ranked it as Russia’s 142nd largest by assets last year.

Russia’s biggest lender, state-owned Sberbank, gave RNCB its former network on the Black Sea peninsula after the annexation. The bank was sanctioned by the European Union last year.

RNCB said the sanctions “do not pose a threat to its current activities” and “at present, RNCB has no assets in the United States.”

Also sanctioned was the Eurasian Youth Union, a Russian pro-separatist organization which the U.S. Treasury said recruited fighters, along with three of its leaders and three former Ukrainian officials.

Additional reporting by Alex Winning, Maria Tsvetkova and Oksana Kobzeva in Moscow; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Grant McCool

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