US official: New sanctions against Russia under consideration

A top U.S. official says Washington is considering imposing new sanctions against Russia if a Ukraine cease-fire deal reached last month in Minsk continues to be violated, and has sent a team to Europe to coordinate the measures with allied governments.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland told the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday the new sanctions would be imposed “should Russia continue fueling the fire in the east of Ukraine” or in other parts of the country, fail to implement the accord signed in the Belarusian capital between Russia-backed separatists and Ukraine’s government, or “grab more land.”

Nuland said Washington is concerned about “new firing on the ground” in eastern Ukraine in the last couple of days. She also said President Barack Obama has not yet made a decision on supplying Ukraine with weapons.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a similar warning to Russia on Wednesday, telling reporters in Brussels after meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker it is “absolutely clear” that if the accord reached in Minsk “doesn’t work,” the EU member states and the commission “are quite prepared to move toward tougher sanctions.”

The  commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, said Tuesday that some 12,000 Russian troops are supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine, while 29,000 Russian troops are stationed in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine last year.

He also said Russia has deployed 50,000 troops on its border with Ukraine in case the separatists suffer a military setback, Reuters reported.

The conflict in Ukraine has claimed more than 6,000 lives.