, KIEV, September 12- Tough new EU sanctions came into effect against Russia over the Ukraine conflict on Friday, with Moscow accusing its foes of trying to derail the push for peace in the former Soviet state.
US President Barack Obama has also announced that Washington will intensify punitive measures to further isolate the Kremlin over its “illegal actions” in Ukraine, sending East-West relations spiralling further downward.
The Western actions come despite a fragile ceasefire signed by Kiev and pro Russian separatists a week ago that appears to have largely halted the deadly fighting across eastern Ukraine.
President Petro Poroshenko, still struggling to keep his country united in the face of the insurgency, unveiled steps to cement Kiev’s ties with the European Union and seek the protection of NATO.
Both Kiev and the Western military alliance say around 1,000 Russian troops are still in Ukraine after allegedly crossing the border in what has been described as an invasion by stealth to bolster the separatist revolt.
Ukrainian authorities have admitted the insurgents extended their control over territory on the eastern border to the Sea of Azov after a lightning surge reportedly backed by elite Russian forces just days before the truce deal.
The EU’s latest restrictions target major Russian energy, finance and defence companies including oil giant Rosneft and arms maker Kalashnikov.
The bloc also imposed asset freezes and visa bans on a host of Russian figures including allies of President Vladimir Putin as well as rebels in Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
The Russian ruble sank to a new historic low against the dollar as the sanctions hit.
– ‘Disconnected from reality’ –
EU nations finally approved the measures after deep divisions about whether they should still be implemented since the ceasefire was declared.
However, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the 28 member bloc could “amend, suspend or repeal” them after reviewing the truce at the end of September.
“By taking this measure, the EU has practically decided against the process of a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian crisis,” the Russian foreign ministry said Thursday.
Parliament speaker Sergei Naryshkin also denounced the US sanctions as “disconnected from reality”.
Moscow has threatened to retaliate by barring EU airlines from its airspace, and has drawn up a list targeting imports of consumer goods and second-hand cars from the West.
Russia’s neighbours in eastern Europe have also accused energy giant Gazprom of slashing gas deliveries in what analysts say was a message directed at Brussels, although Moscow denied such a move.
The stepped up EU restrictions reflect deep Western suspicions over Moscow’s territorial ambitions in the former Soviet state after the seizure of Crimea in March in the chaotic weeks that followed the ouster of a pro Kremlin leader in Kiev.
– ‘Special status’ with NATO –
And Poroshenko announce fresh moves that would pull his country further out of Russia’s orbit, with the Ukrainian and European parliaments meeting on Tuesday to jointly ratify a historic association agreement.