KINSHASA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is strongly condemning the continuing violence in Ukraine, and he says Russia will face tougher economic sanctions if it does not stop trying to interfere with elections called by the Kyiv government. Kerry is on a trip through Africa; he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday about the situation in Ukraine.
Secretary Kerry welcomed the release of seven OSCE inspectors who had been detained by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine but said many other steps need to be taken to reverse the sudden escalation of conflict between separatists and supporters of the Kyiv government.
Secretary Kerry spoke by telephone with Foreign Minister Lavrov while on a flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He said the U.S. and Russia both will be in touch with Swiss authorities to see whether and how the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can do more to reduce tensions in Ukraine. He deplored violence by both sides, including those who carried out an arson attack in Odessa Friday that killed dozens of people.
As he arrived in Kinshasa, Congo's capital, Kerry said he told Lavrov that Russia must withdraw its support for separatists and assist in removing militants who are occupying government buildings in southern and eastern provinces of Ukraine.
"If those supported by Russia continue to interfere with the election, regrettably there will have to be additional sanctions including the possibility, the reality of sector sanctions," he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry's version of the Kerry-Lavrov talks, in a statement issued in Moscow, said Lavrov told Kerry that the U.S. should press Ukraine's government to immediately halt its military operations in southeast Ukraine.
Lavrov said he and Kerry agreed that efforts to broaden the OSCE's role in Ukraine are the right course to follow now.
In Ukraine Saturday, a senior government official said Kyiv's forces are continuing military operations in the country's east, where both separatists and government supporters are trading charges of "terrorism." Residents of Kramatorsk, 100 kilometers from Donetsk, a center of separatist activity, say fighting there was heavy Saturday.
Kerry said Russians, Americans, Ukrainians, and Europeans must share responsibility for the deteriorating situation and do everything in their power to "reduce the capacity" of militants and armed extremists to engage in violence" like the incidents seen this week in Odessa and Slovyansk.
Such attacks must end, Kerry said, adding that "everybody with any influence on any party" has an obligation to try to end the violence.