OSCE observers held

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Crisis in Ukraine OSCE observers held

OSCE observers, some German, are still being held by separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that the German government is doing "everything in its power" to have the observers released. The G7 states had previously agreed to impose additional sanctions on Russia.

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The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had promised to help in a telephone conversation, reported Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday in Berlin. Equally, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is working on the ground to have the observers released swiftly. A crisis unit has been set up at the German Federal Foreign Office.

In Slovyansk, 13 OSCE observers, including four Germans, have been held since Friday. The Germans include three Bundeswehr officers and one interpreter, reported Federal Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Friday evening. It is now important to use all possible diplomatic channels so that "this team is released immediately unharmed", she said.

G7 agrees to impose new sanctions on Russia

On Saturday morning the seven leading industrial nations (G7) agreed to impose additional sanctions on Russia at short notice.

In a statement, they expressed their deep concern at the continued efforts by separatists backed by Russia to destabilise eastern Ukraine. They reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring a peaceful and stable environment for the May 25 presidential election.

Russia contributing to escalation

The G7 welcomed the "positive steps" taken by Ukraine to meet its commitments under the Geneva accord of 17 April. "In contrast, Russia has taken no concrete actions in support of the Geneva accord," the statement continued.

Instead, Russia "has continued to escalate tensions by increasingly concerning rhetoric and ongoing military manoeuvres on Ukraine’s border". The G7 leaders reiterated their strong condemnations of Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea, "which we do not recognize".

Additional sanctions to be imposed swiftly

The G7 states will now move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia, to ensure that there can be a peaceful democratic vote in Ukraine’s presidential elections. Targeted sanctions and measures must "increase the cost of Russia’s actions". Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the response from the international community have already imposed significant costs on the Russian economy.

At the same time, however, the G7 leaders stressed that the door remains open to a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, on the basis of the Geneva accord. "We urge Russia to join us in committing to that path."

Russia has failed to commit to the Geneva process, says Chancellor

On Friday, Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call that she can see no "Russian commitment" to the Geneva process. She reported on this during a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Berlin.

Russia has the option of getting the separatists in Ukraine to take a peaceful approach to discussing the constitution and preparations for the election. "So far we have regrettably not seen any such signals," said Angela Merkel.

Should Russia refuse to engage in efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the situation in Ukraine, further sanctions from the western side can be expected. In this case EU ministers of foreign affairs would meet soon, announced the Chancellor.

The Geneva accord

On 17 April, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia and the USA, and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, agreed on concrete, specific steps to de-escalate the situation. The parties agreed:

1. to renounce the use of violence
2. to disarm illegal groups
3. to return occupied buildings
4. on an amnesty.

The OSCE, currently acting as an independent observer in Ukraine, is to play a leading part in implementing the accord.