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Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — As top Ukrainians spoke of imminent invasion and the West threatened the Kremlin with more sanctions, Moscow said Friday that pro-Russian separatists would not lay down their arms in eastern Ukraine until activists relinquish control over key sites in Kiev.

The tough talk came as tensions heightened on the ground, with Russian fighter jets reported crossing into Ukrainian airspace and a team of unarmed foreign military observers detained by pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk, the heart of the separatist movement in the east.

With last week’s Geneva agreement calling on all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and hand over occupied cities and facilities in tatters, both sides exchanged threats and warnings Friday.

Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east would only disarm and leave the territory they have occupied if the Ukrainian government clears out a protest camp in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and evicts activists from other occupied facilities.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

Pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet.

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivsky said he feared an imminent Russian invasion.

“We have the information we are in danger,” Lubkivsky told reporters, saying Russian military maneuvers involving air and ground forces along the Ukraine border were a “very dangerous development.”

“We are going to protect our motherland against any invasion,” Lubkivsky said. “We call on the Russians to stop this madness.”

The heightened rhetoric came as U.S. officials reported that Russian fighter jets flew into Ukrainian airspace several times over the last 24 hours, in what one called a provocation.

It wasn’t clear what the intent was, but the aircraft could have been testing Ukrainian radar or making a show of force, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

The flights came as Russia increased military exercises along the Ukraine border, including moving a broad array of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, infantry and armored troops – further inflaming fears of a potential Russian military incursion into Ukraine.

In another worrying development, a group of foreign military observers traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by pro-Russia separatists in Slovyansk.

The German-led team was accused of possessing “suspicious materials,” said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the town’s self-proclaimed separatist mayor. She said they were unharmed and would be released after further investigation.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said it had lost contact with the team, which it said was made up of 13 people – five Ukrainians, three German soldiers, a German translator and one soldier each from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and its European allies were poised to impose new sanctions on Russia’s struggling economy, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating to near junk, saying tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country.

Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high.

The ratings cut, the first in five years, came as capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders Friday that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia.

The threat of new sanctions came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an unusually harsh indictment of Moscow for failing to use its influence to enforce last week’s Geneva accord.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” Kerry said. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said activists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The Maidan tent camp and occupation of government buildings in the capital are rooted in the monthslong protests that culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — As top Ukrainians spoke of imminent invasion and the West threatened the Kremlin with more sanctions, Moscow said Friday that pro-Russian separatists would not lay down their arms in eastern Ukraine until activists relinquish control over key sites in Kiev.

The tough talk came as tensions heightened on the ground, with Russian fighter jets reported crossing into Ukrainian airspace and a team of unarmed foreign military observers detained by pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk, the heart of the separatist movement in the east.

With last week’s Geneva agreement calling on all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and hand over occupied cities and facilities in tatters, both sides exchanged threats and warnings Friday.

Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east would only disarm and leave the territory they have occupied if the Ukrainian government clears out a protest camp in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and evicts activists from other occupied facilities.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

Pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet.

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivsky said he feared an imminent Russian invasion.

“We have the information we are in danger,” Lubkivsky told reporters, saying Russian military maneuvers involving air and ground forces along the Ukraine border were a “very dangerous development.”

“We are going to protect our motherland against any invasion,” Lubkivsky said. “We call on the Russians to stop this madness.”

The heightened rhetoric came as U.S. officials reported that Russian fighter jets flew into Ukrainian airspace several times over the last 24 hours, in what one called a provocation.

It wasn’t clear what the intent was, but the aircraft could have been testing Ukrainian radar or making a show of force, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

The flights came as Russia increased military exercises along the Ukraine border, including moving a broad array of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, infantry and armored troops – further inflaming fears of a potential Russian military incursion into Ukraine.

In another worrying development, a group of foreign military observers traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by pro-Russia separatists in Slovyansk.

The German-led team was accused of possessing “suspicious materials,” said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the town’s self-proclaimed separatist mayor. She said they were unharmed and would be released after further investigation.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said it had lost contact with the team, which it said was made up of 13 people – five Ukrainians, three German soldiers, a German translator and one soldier each from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and its European allies were poised to impose new sanctions on Russia’s struggling economy, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating to near junk, saying tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country.

Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high.

The ratings cut, the first in five years, came as capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders Friday that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia.

The threat of new sanctions came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an unusually harsh indictment of Moscow for failing to use its influence to enforce last week’s Geneva accord.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” Kerry said. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said activists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The Maidan tent camp and occupation of government buildings in the capital are rooted in the monthslong protests that culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — As top Ukrainians spoke of imminent invasion and the West threatened the Kremlin with more sanctions, Moscow said Friday that pro-Russian separatists would not lay down their arms in eastern Ukraine until activists relinquish control over key sites in Kiev.

The tough talk came as tensions heightened on the ground, with Russian fighter jets reported crossing into Ukrainian airspace and a team of unarmed foreign military observers detained by pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk, the heart of the separatist movement in the east.

With last week’s Geneva agreement calling on all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and hand over occupied cities and facilities in tatters, both sides exchanged threats and warnings Friday.

Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east would only disarm and leave the territory they have occupied if the Ukrainian government clears out a protest camp in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and evicts activists from other occupied facilities.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

Pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet.

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivsky said he feared an imminent Russian invasion.

“We have the information we are in danger,” Lubkivsky told reporters, saying Russian military maneuvers involving air and ground forces along the Ukraine border were a “very dangerous development.”

“We are going to protect our motherland against any invasion,” Lubkivsky said. “We call on the Russians to stop this madness.”

The heightened rhetoric came as U.S. officials reported that Russian fighter jets flew into Ukrainian airspace several times over the last 24 hours, in what one called a provocation.

It wasn’t clear what the intent was, but the aircraft could have been testing Ukrainian radar or making a show of force, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

The flights came as Russia increased military exercises along the Ukraine border, including moving a broad array of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, infantry and armored troops – further inflaming fears of a potential Russian military incursion into Ukraine.

In another worrying development, a group of foreign military observers traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by pro-Russia separatists in Slovyansk.

The German-led team was accused of possessing “suspicious materials,” said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the town’s self-proclaimed separatist mayor. She said they were unharmed and would be released after further investigation.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said it had lost contact with the team, which it said was made up of 13 people – five Ukrainians, three German soldiers, a German translator and one soldier each from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and its European allies were poised to impose new sanctions on Russia’s struggling economy, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating to near junk, saying tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country.

Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high.

The ratings cut, the first in five years, came as capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders Friday that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia.

The threat of new sanctions came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an unusually harsh indictment of Moscow for failing to use its influence to enforce last week’s Geneva accord.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” Kerry said. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said activists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The Maidan tent camp and occupation of government buildings in the capital are rooted in the monthslong protests that culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — As top Ukrainians spoke of imminent invasion and the West threatened the Kremlin with more sanctions, Moscow said Friday that pro-Russian separatists would not lay down their arms in eastern Ukraine until activists relinquish control over key sites in Kiev.

The tough talk came as tensions heightened on the ground, with Russian fighter jets reported crossing into Ukrainian airspace and a team of unarmed foreign military observers detained by pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk, the heart of the separatist movement in the east.

With last week’s Geneva agreement calling on all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and hand over occupied cities and facilities in tatters, both sides exchanged threats and warnings Friday.

Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east would only disarm and leave the territory they have occupied if the Ukrainian government clears out a protest camp in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and evicts activists from other occupied facilities.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

Pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet.

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivsky said he feared an imminent Russian invasion.

“We have the information we are in danger,” Lubkivsky told reporters, saying Russian military maneuvers involving air and ground forces along the Ukraine border were a “very dangerous development.”

“We are going to protect our motherland against any invasion,” Lubkivsky said. “We call on the Russians to stop this madness.”

The heightened rhetoric came as U.S. officials reported that Russian fighter jets flew into Ukrainian airspace several times over the last 24 hours, in what one called a provocation.

It wasn’t clear what the intent was, but the aircraft could have been testing Ukrainian radar or making a show of force, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

The flights came as Russia increased military exercises along the Ukraine border, including moving a broad array of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, infantry and armored troops – further inflaming fears of a potential Russian military incursion into Ukraine.

In another worrying development, a group of foreign military observers traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by pro-Russia separatists in Slovyansk.

The German-led team was accused of possessing “suspicious materials,” said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the town’s self-proclaimed separatist mayor. She said they were unharmed and would be released after further investigation.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said it had lost contact with the team, which it said was made up of 13 people – five Ukrainians, three German soldiers, a German translator and one soldier each from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and its European allies were poised to impose new sanctions on Russia’s struggling economy, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating to near junk, saying tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country.

Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high.

The ratings cut, the first in five years, came as capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders Friday that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia.

The threat of new sanctions came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an unusually harsh indictment of Moscow for failing to use its influence to enforce last week’s Geneva accord.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” Kerry said. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said activists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The Maidan tent camp and occupation of government buildings in the capital are rooted in the monthslong protests that culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — As top Ukrainians spoke of imminent invasion and the West threatened the Kremlin with more sanctions, Moscow said Friday that pro-Russian separatists would not lay down their arms in eastern Ukraine until activists relinquish control over key sites in Kiev.

The tough talk came as tensions heightened on the ground, with Russian fighter jets reported crossing into Ukrainian airspace and a team of unarmed foreign military observers detained by pro-Russian forces in Slovyansk, the heart of the separatist movement in the east.

With last week’s Geneva agreement calling on all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and hand over occupied cities and facilities in tatters, both sides exchanged threats and warnings Friday.

Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that pro-Russia insurgents in the country’s east would only disarm and leave the territory they have occupied if the Ukrainian government clears out a protest camp in Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and evicts activists from other occupied facilities.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

Pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,” Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet.

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Danylo Lubkivsky said he feared an imminent Russian invasion.

“We have the information we are in danger,” Lubkivsky told reporters, saying Russian military maneuvers involving air and ground forces along the Ukraine border were a “very dangerous development.”

“We are going to protect our motherland against any invasion,” Lubkivsky said. “We call on the Russians to stop this madness.”

The heightened rhetoric came as U.S. officials reported that Russian fighter jets flew into Ukrainian airspace several times over the last 24 hours, in what one called a provocation.

It wasn’t clear what the intent was, but the aircraft could have been testing Ukrainian radar or making a show of force, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

The flights came as Russia increased military exercises along the Ukraine border, including moving a broad array of fixed wing and rotary aircraft, infantry and armored troops – further inflaming fears of a potential Russian military incursion into Ukraine.

In another worrying development, a group of foreign military observers traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by pro-Russia separatists in Slovyansk.

The German-led team was accused of possessing “suspicious materials,” said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the town’s self-proclaimed separatist mayor. She said they were unharmed and would be released after further investigation.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said it had lost contact with the team, which it said was made up of 13 people – five Ukrainians, three German soldiers, a German translator and one soldier each from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and its European allies were poised to impose new sanctions on Russia’s struggling economy, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating to near junk, saying tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country.

Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high.

The ratings cut, the first in five years, came as capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders Friday that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia.

The threat of new sanctions came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an unusually harsh indictment of Moscow for failing to use its influence to enforce last week’s Geneva accord.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” Kerry said. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said activists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The Maidan tent camp and occupation of government buildings in the capital are rooted in the monthslong protests that culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday as a ratings agency cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kiev, the capital.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high. But the uncertainty ignited by the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions against Russia worsened the problem.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit grade for Russia on Friday for the first time in five years, saying the tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country. Capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Despite the sanctions and international denunciation, the annexation appears to be a done deal. Now the focus is on eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns, allegedly with Russian participation or connivance.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia. The White House says the allies on Friday agreed that Russia has not abided by an agreement to ease tensions with Ukraine and has escalated strains in the eastern parts of the former Soviet state.

New measures may not dissuade Russia.

“On the one hand, there appears to be a very gung-ho (Russian) attitude toward east Ukraine,” said Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow. “On the other hand, they are showing they are very concerned about the impact this is having on the economy and the currency and trying to limit the damage.”

A resolution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine is appearing elusive. The agreement reached last week in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union called for all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave illegally seized buildings and public spaces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev and vacates buildings occupied by activists there.

The Maidan tent camp and the building occupations in Kiev are rooted in the massive protests that broke out in late November and culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and they want to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more-moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said nationalists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

As each side blames the other for inaction and bad faith, the turmoil in eastern Ukraine continues.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The drop in Russia’s credit rating means it will be more expensive for Russia to borrow on international markets and eventually will determine how much Russian consumers pay for their loans.

As Russia does not borrow much on international bond markets, the impact on its public financing costs is likely to be limited. Russia had 4.4 trillion rubles, or $123 billion, in outstanding government bonds as of April 1. The downgrade amounts to a warning on the risks of investing in the country and the low grade is surprising for a government that has very low levels of public debt.

But Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent during 2014′s first quarter, sharply worse than earlier forecast.

And its ruble currency slumped, hitting record lows against the dollar. On Friday, it was down 0.7 percent at 36.03 rubles per dollar. The ruble’s weakness, in turn, has been pushing inflation up in Russia, as a lower currency makes imports more expensive.

The Russian Central Bank sought to fight that trend by increasing its main interest rate, the one-week auction rate, by 0.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent on Friday.

The bank, which had already hiked its rate sharply in March from 5.5 percent, said in a statement it aimed to keep the inflation rate under 6 percent this year and does not expect to cut the rate back in the coming months.

The interest rate increase is a double-edged sword – it could help stabilize the ruble by attracting foreign investors in search of higher returns but will also tend to hurt economic growth by making loans more expensive.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev dismissed the S&P ratings cut from BBB to BBB- as “partly politically motivated.”

Danilova reported from Kiev. Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday as a ratings agency cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kiev, the capital.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high. But the uncertainty ignited by the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions against Russia worsened the problem.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit grade for Russia on Friday for the first time in five years, saying the tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country. Capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Despite the sanctions and international denunciation, the annexation appears to be a done deal. Now the focus is on eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns, allegedly with Russian participation or connivance.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia. The White House says the allies on Friday agreed that Russia has not abided by an agreement to ease tensions with Ukraine and has escalated strains in the eastern parts of the former Soviet state.

New measures may not dissuade Russia.

“On the one hand, there appears to be a very gung-ho (Russian) attitude toward east Ukraine,” said Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow. “On the other hand, they are showing they are very concerned about the impact this is having on the economy and the currency and trying to limit the damage.”

A resolution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine is appearing elusive. The agreement reached last week in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union called for all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave illegally seized buildings and public spaces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev and vacates buildings occupied by activists there.

The Maidan tent camp and the building occupations in Kiev are rooted in the massive protests that broke out in late November and culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and they want to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more-moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said nationalists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

As each side blames the other for inaction and bad faith, the turmoil in eastern Ukraine continues.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The drop in Russia’s credit rating means it will be more expensive for Russia to borrow on international markets and eventually will determine how much Russian consumers pay for their loans.

As Russia does not borrow much on international bond markets, the impact on its public financing costs is likely to be limited. Russia had 4.4 trillion rubles, or $123 billion, in outstanding government bonds as of April 1. The downgrade amounts to a warning on the risks of investing in the country and the low grade is surprising for a government that has very low levels of public debt.

But Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent during 2014′s first quarter, sharply worse than earlier forecast.

And its ruble currency slumped, hitting record lows against the dollar. On Friday, it was down 0.7 percent at 36.03 rubles per dollar. The ruble’s weakness, in turn, has been pushing inflation up in Russia, as a lower currency makes imports more expensive.

The Russian Central Bank sought to fight that trend by increasing its main interest rate, the one-week auction rate, by 0.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent on Friday.

The bank, which had already hiked its rate sharply in March from 5.5 percent, said in a statement it aimed to keep the inflation rate under 6 percent this year and does not expect to cut the rate back in the coming months.

The interest rate increase is a double-edged sword – it could help stabilize the ruble by attracting foreign investors in search of higher returns but will also tend to hurt economic growth by making loans more expensive.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev dismissed the S&P ratings cut from BBB to BBB- as “partly politically motivated.”

Danilova reported from Kiev. Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday as a ratings agency cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kiev, the capital.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high. But the uncertainty ignited by the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions against Russia worsened the problem.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit grade for Russia on Friday for the first time in five years, saying the tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country. Capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Despite the sanctions and international denunciation, the annexation appears to be a done deal. Now the focus is on eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns, allegedly with Russian participation or connivance.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia. The White House says the allies on Friday agreed that Russia has not abided by an agreement to ease tensions with Ukraine and has escalated strains in the eastern parts of the former Soviet state.

New measures may not dissuade Russia.

“On the one hand, there appears to be a very gung-ho (Russian) attitude toward east Ukraine,” said Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow. “On the other hand, they are showing they are very concerned about the impact this is having on the economy and the currency and trying to limit the damage.”

A resolution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine is appearing elusive. The agreement reached last week in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union called for all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave illegally seized buildings and public spaces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev and vacates buildings occupied by activists there.

The Maidan tent camp and the building occupations in Kiev are rooted in the massive protests that broke out in late November and culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and they want to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more-moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said nationalists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

As each side blames the other for inaction and bad faith, the turmoil in eastern Ukraine continues.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The drop in Russia’s credit rating means it will be more expensive for Russia to borrow on international markets and eventually will determine how much Russian consumers pay for their loans.

As Russia does not borrow much on international bond markets, the impact on its public financing costs is likely to be limited. Russia had 4.4 trillion rubles, or $123 billion, in outstanding government bonds as of April 1. The downgrade amounts to a warning on the risks of investing in the country and the low grade is surprising for a government that has very low levels of public debt.

But Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent during 2014′s first quarter, sharply worse than earlier forecast.

And its ruble currency slumped, hitting record lows against the dollar. On Friday, it was down 0.7 percent at 36.03 rubles per dollar. The ruble’s weakness, in turn, has been pushing inflation up in Russia, as a lower currency makes imports more expensive.

The Russian Central Bank sought to fight that trend by increasing its main interest rate, the one-week auction rate, by 0.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent on Friday.

The bank, which had already hiked its rate sharply in March from 5.5 percent, said in a statement it aimed to keep the inflation rate under 6 percent this year and does not expect to cut the rate back in the coming months.

The interest rate increase is a double-edged sword – it could help stabilize the ruble by attracting foreign investors in search of higher returns but will also tend to hurt economic growth by making loans more expensive.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev dismissed the S&P ratings cut from BBB to BBB- as “partly politically motivated.”

Danilova reported from Kiev. Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday as a ratings agency cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kiev, the capital.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high. But the uncertainty ignited by the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions against Russia worsened the problem.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit grade for Russia on Friday for the first time in five years, saying the tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country. Capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Despite the sanctions and international denunciation, the annexation appears to be a done deal. Now the focus is on eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns, allegedly with Russian participation or connivance.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia. The White House says the allies on Friday agreed that Russia has not abided by an agreement to ease tensions with Ukraine and has escalated strains in the eastern parts of the former Soviet state.

New measures may not dissuade Russia.

“On the one hand, there appears to be a very gung-ho (Russian) attitude toward east Ukraine,” said Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow. “On the other hand, they are showing they are very concerned about the impact this is having on the economy and the currency and trying to limit the damage.”

A resolution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine is appearing elusive. The agreement reached last week in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union called for all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave illegally seized buildings and public spaces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev and vacates buildings occupied by activists there.

The Maidan tent camp and the building occupations in Kiev are rooted in the massive protests that broke out in late November and culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and they want to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more-moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said nationalists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

As each side blames the other for inaction and bad faith, the turmoil in eastern Ukraine continues.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The drop in Russia’s credit rating means it will be more expensive for Russia to borrow on international markets and eventually will determine how much Russian consumers pay for their loans.

As Russia does not borrow much on international bond markets, the impact on its public financing costs is likely to be limited. Russia had 4.4 trillion rubles, or $123 billion, in outstanding government bonds as of April 1. The downgrade amounts to a warning on the risks of investing in the country and the low grade is surprising for a government that has very low levels of public debt.

But Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent during 2014′s first quarter, sharply worse than earlier forecast.

And its ruble currency slumped, hitting record lows against the dollar. On Friday, it was down 0.7 percent at 36.03 rubles per dollar. The ruble’s weakness, in turn, has been pushing inflation up in Russia, as a lower currency makes imports more expensive.

The Russian Central Bank sought to fight that trend by increasing its main interest rate, the one-week auction rate, by 0.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent on Friday.

The bank, which had already hiked its rate sharply in March from 5.5 percent, said in a statement it aimed to keep the inflation rate under 6 percent this year and does not expect to cut the rate back in the coming months.

The interest rate increase is a double-edged sword – it could help stabilize the ruble by attracting foreign investors in search of higher returns but will also tend to hurt economic growth by making loans more expensive.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev dismissed the S&P ratings cut from BBB to BBB- as “partly politically motivated.”

Danilova reported from Kiev. Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday as a ratings agency cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kiev, the capital.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high. But the uncertainty ignited by the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions against Russia worsened the problem.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit grade for Russia on Friday for the first time in five years, saying the tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country. Capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Despite the sanctions and international denunciation, the annexation appears to be a done deal. Now the focus is on eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns, allegedly with Russian participation or connivance.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia. The White House says the allies on Friday agreed that Russia has not abided by an agreement to ease tensions with Ukraine and has escalated strains in the eastern parts of the former Soviet state.

New measures may not dissuade Russia.

“On the one hand, there appears to be a very gung-ho (Russian) attitude toward east Ukraine,” said Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow. “On the other hand, they are showing they are very concerned about the impact this is having on the economy and the currency and trying to limit the damage.”

A resolution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine is appearing elusive. The agreement reached last week in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union called for all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave illegally seized buildings and public spaces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev and vacates buildings occupied by activists there.

The Maidan tent camp and the building occupations in Kiev are rooted in the massive protests that broke out in late November and culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and they want to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more-moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said nationalists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

As each side blames the other for inaction and bad faith, the turmoil in eastern Ukraine continues.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The drop in Russia’s credit rating means it will be more expensive for Russia to borrow on international markets and eventually will determine how much Russian consumers pay for their loans.

As Russia does not borrow much on international bond markets, the impact on its public financing costs is likely to be limited. Russia had 4.4 trillion rubles, or $123 billion, in outstanding government bonds as of April 1. The downgrade amounts to a warning on the risks of investing in the country and the low grade is surprising for a government that has very low levels of public debt.

But Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent during 2014′s first quarter, sharply worse than earlier forecast.

And its ruble currency slumped, hitting record lows against the dollar. On Friday, it was down 0.7 percent at 36.03 rubles per dollar. The ruble’s weakness, in turn, has been pushing inflation up in Russia, as a lower currency makes imports more expensive.

The Russian Central Bank sought to fight that trend by increasing its main interest rate, the one-week auction rate, by 0.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent on Friday.

The bank, which had already hiked its rate sharply in March from 5.5 percent, said in a statement it aimed to keep the inflation rate under 6 percent this year and does not expect to cut the rate back in the coming months.

The interest rate increase is a double-edged sword – it could help stabilize the ruble by attracting foreign investors in search of higher returns but will also tend to hurt economic growth by making loans more expensive.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev dismissed the S&P ratings cut from BBB to BBB- as “partly politically motivated.”

Danilova reported from Kiev. Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday as a ratings agency cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kiev, the capital.

The soaring prosperity that has been a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s popularity already had been heading for a slowdown before the Ukraine crisis hit, as Russian oil and gas exports slowed and the country’s reliance on extractive industries remained high. But the uncertainty ignited by the Ukraine crisis and Western sanctions against Russia worsened the problem.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit grade for Russia on Friday for the first time in five years, saying the tensions over Ukraine were causing investors to pull money out of the country. Capital flight from Russia in the first three months of this year totaled about $70 billion – more than all of 2013.

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Despite the sanctions and international denunciation, the annexation appears to be a done deal. Now the focus is on eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns, allegedly with Russian participation or connivance.

President Barack Obama told four European leaders that the United States was prepared to impose new targeted sanctions on Russia. The White House says the allies on Friday agreed that Russia has not abided by an agreement to ease tensions with Ukraine and has escalated strains in the eastern parts of the former Soviet state.

New measures may not dissuade Russia.

“On the one hand, there appears to be a very gung-ho (Russian) attitude toward east Ukraine,” said Chris Weafer, an analyst at Macro Advisory in Moscow. “On the other hand, they are showing they are very concerned about the impact this is having on the economy and the currency and trying to limit the damage.”

A resolution to the unrest in eastern Ukraine is appearing elusive. The agreement reached last week in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union called for all illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave illegally seized buildings and public spaces.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev and vacates buildings occupied by activists there.

The Maidan tent camp and the building occupations in Kiev are rooted in the massive protests that broke out in late November and culminated in pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country for Russia in February. The hundreds of demonstrators and activists who remain say they want to pressure the new government to enact promised reforms and they want to protect the buildings from attack by pro-Russia forces.

“We are defending and helping them, but at the same time they feel threatened by us, we keep them in check,” activist Oleksandr Zhak said Friday.

The occupiers in Kiev consist largely of nationalist sympathizers, including the far-right group Right Sector, who were a core element of the anti-Yanukovych protests. Although more-moderate elements of the new government are uncomfortable with them, forcing them out would be risky.

Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said nationalists have promised to leave Kiev’s occupied city hall by the end of the week.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

As each side blames the other for inaction and bad faith, the turmoil in eastern Ukraine continues.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk, wounding a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were wounded by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The drop in Russia’s credit rating means it will be more expensive for Russia to borrow on international markets and eventually will determine how much Russian consumers pay for their loans.

As Russia does not borrow much on international bond markets, the impact on its public financing costs is likely to be limited. Russia had 4.4 trillion rubles, or $123 billion, in outstanding government bonds as of April 1. The downgrade amounts to a warning on the risks of investing in the country and the low grade is surprising for a government that has very low levels of public debt.

But Russia’s economic growth slowed to 0.8 percent during 2014′s first quarter, sharply worse than earlier forecast.

And its ruble currency slumped, hitting record lows against the dollar. On Friday, it was down 0.7 percent at 36.03 rubles per dollar. The ruble’s weakness, in turn, has been pushing inflation up in Russia, as a lower currency makes imports more expensive.

The Russian Central Bank sought to fight that trend by increasing its main interest rate, the one-week auction rate, by 0.5 percentage points to 7.5 percent on Friday.

The bank, which had already hiked its rate sharply in March from 5.5 percent, said in a statement it aimed to keep the inflation rate under 6 percent this year and does not expect to cut the rate back in the coming months.

The interest rate increase is a double-edged sword – it could help stabilize the ruble by attracting foreign investors in search of higher returns but will also tend to hurt economic growth by making loans more expensive.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev dismissed the S&P ratings cut from BBB to BBB- as “partly politically motivated.”

Danilova reported from Kiev. Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Julie Pace in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

He added the pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized.”

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten the second World War, but Russia is already keen on starting a third world war,” acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk retorted.

President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Seoul, said he will call key European leaders later Friday to discuss what’s happened since a deal was reached last week in Geneva to try to de-escalate Ukraine’s worst security crisis since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

At issue is who is adhering to the Geneva deal and what is an illegal occupation. In Geneva, Russia and Ukraine agreed that all illegal groups in Ukraine should be disarmed and all illegally occupied public buildings and spaces should be vacated.

Pro-Russia militia have seized and been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine.

In the capital of Kiev, pro-Ukrainian demonstrators continue to operate a tent camp on the city’s main square, known as the Maidan, and occupy several buildings nearby, including city hall. Yulia Torhovets, spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said Ukrainian nationalists have promised to free city hall by the end of this week.

Ukraine authorities, however, say the Kiev occupations are at least tacitly legal because authorities have allowed them.

“Without a doubt, they have all the rights to do this,” Viktoriya Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press.

Elsewhere, there were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk that injured a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were injured by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Moscow in March took control of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed it weeks later with the blessing of residents, attracting condemnation of the West as well as sanctions targeting individuals.

Russia’s economy is hurting from its involvement in Ukraine.

The Standard & Poor’s credit agency on Friday cut Russia’s credit rating for the first time in more than five years, citing the flight of capital and the risk to investment in Russia since the Ukraine crisis blew up late last year.

Credit ratings are important because they determine the cost of borrowing on international markets. But Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev sought to play down the downgrade, calling it “partly politically motivated.”

Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk and Julie Pace in Seoul contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

He added the pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized.”

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten the second World War, but Russia is already keen on starting a third world war,” acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk retorted.

President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Seoul, said he will call key European leaders later Friday to discuss what’s happened since a deal was reached last week in Geneva to try to de-escalate Ukraine’s worst security crisis since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

At issue is who is adhering to the Geneva deal and what is an illegal occupation. In Geneva, Russia and Ukraine agreed that all illegal groups in Ukraine should be disarmed and all illegally occupied public buildings and spaces should be vacated.

Pro-Russia militia have seized and been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine.

In the capital of Kiev, pro-Ukrainian demonstrators continue to operate a tent camp on the city’s main square, known as the Maidan, and occupy several buildings nearby, including city hall. Yulia Torhovets, spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said Ukrainian nationalists have promised to free city hall by the end of this week.

Ukraine authorities, however, say the Kiev occupations are at least tacitly legal because authorities have allowed them.

“Without a doubt, they have all the rights to do this,” Viktoriya Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press.

Elsewhere, there were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk that injured a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were injured by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Moscow in March took control of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed it weeks later with the blessing of residents, attracting condemnation of the West as well as sanctions targeting individuals.

Russia’s economy is hurting from its involvement in Ukraine.

The Standard & Poor’s credit agency on Friday cut Russia’s credit rating for the first time in more than five years, citing the flight of capital and the risk to investment in Russia since the Ukraine crisis blew up late last year.

Credit ratings are important because they determine the cost of borrowing on international markets. But Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev sought to play down the downgrade, calling it “partly politically motivated.”

Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk and Julie Pace in Seoul contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Friday that the pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in Kiev.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said.

He added the pro-Russia insurgents will disarm and vacate buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized.”

Ukraine’s reaction was swift.

“The world has not yet forgotten the second World War, but Russia is already keen on starting a third world war,” acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk retorted.

President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Seoul, said he will call key European leaders later Friday to discuss what’s happened since a deal was reached last week in Geneva to try to de-escalate Ukraine’s worst security crisis since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The West, meanwhile, has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russia insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday. “Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons and get out of the Ukrainian buildings.”

At issue is who is adhering to the Geneva deal and what is an illegal occupation. In Geneva, Russia and Ukraine agreed that all illegal groups in Ukraine should be disarmed and all illegally occupied public buildings and spaces should be vacated.

Pro-Russia militia have seized and been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine.

In the capital of Kiev, pro-Ukrainian demonstrators continue to operate a tent camp on the city’s main square, known as the Maidan, and occupy several buildings nearby, including city hall. Yulia Torhovets, spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, said Ukrainian nationalists have promised to free city hall by the end of this week.

Ukraine authorities, however, say the Kiev occupations are at least tacitly legal because authorities have allowed them.

“Without a doubt, they have all the rights to do this,” Viktoriya Syumar, a deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press.

Elsewhere, there were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk that injured a pilot.

In southern Ukraine, seven people were injured by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

Moscow in March took control of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed it weeks later with the blessing of residents, attracting condemnation of the West as well as sanctions targeting individuals.

Russia’s economy is hurting from its involvement in Ukraine.

The Standard & Poor’s credit agency on Friday cut Russia’s credit rating for the first time in more than five years, citing the flight of capital and the risk to investment in Russia since the Ukraine crisis blew up late last year.

Credit ratings are important because they determine the cost of borrowing on international markets. But Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev sought to play down the downgrade, calling it “partly politically motivated.”

Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk and Julie Pace in Seoul contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of plotting to control Ukraine and said the pro-Russian insurgents in the southeast would lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in the capital Kiev.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Seoul, South Korea, said he will call key European leaders later Friday to discuss what’s happened since a deal was reached last week in Geneva to de-escalate the crisis.

Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement calling on all parties in the country to lay down arms and vacate public buildings. Pro-Russian militia have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine while the nationalist Right Sector movement is still in control of two public buildings in Kiev.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk. Deputy Minister Vasyl Krutov said the pilot was injured.

In southeastern Ukraine, seven people were injured by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Local police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The West has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russian insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

“Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons, and get out of the Ukrainian buildings,” Kerry said.

Lavrov said on Friday the militia in the east “will be ready” to lay down arms and vacate the buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized.”

Moscow in March recognized a hastily called referendum in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed it weeks later, attracting condemnation of the West as well as sanctions targeting individuals. Kerry said that unless Moscow took immediate steps to relax tensions, Washington would impose additional sanctions.

Russia’s economy is already hurting from its involvement in Ukraine.

The Standard & Poor’s credit agency on Friday cut Russia’s credit rating for the first time in more than five years. The main concerns cited by the agency were the flight of capital and the risk to investment in Russia since the Ukraine crisis blew up late last year.

Credit ratings are important for the economy because they determine the cost of borrowing on international markets. Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev sought to play down the downgrade, calling it “partly politically motivated.”

Russia announced new military exercises Thursday involving ground and air forces near its border with Ukraine, swiftly responding to a Ukrainian operation to drive pro-Russia insurgents out of occupied buildings in the east. At least two people were killed in a clash at a checkpoint.

Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk and Julie Pace in Seoul contributed to this report.

Russia’s Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

KDWN

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of plotting to control Ukraine and said the pro-Russian insurgents in the southeast would lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out the Maidan protest camp in the capital Kiev.

“The West wants – and this is how it all began – to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Lavrov said on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Seoul, South Korea, said he will call key European leaders later Friday to discuss what’s happened since a deal was reached last week in Geneva to de-escalate the crisis.

Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement calling on all parties in the country to lay down arms and vacate public buildings. Pro-Russian militia have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities in eastern Ukraine while the nationalist Right Sector movement is still in control of two public buildings in Kiev.

There were scattered reports of violence Friday. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said a grenade fired from a launcher caused an explosion in a helicopter at an airfield outside the eastern city of Kramatorsk. Deputy Minister Vasyl Krutov said the pilot was injured.

In southeastern Ukraine, seven people were injured by a blast at a checkpoint set up by local authorities and pro-Ukraine activists outside the Black Sea port of Odessa. Local police spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko said unknown men had thrown a grenade at the checkpoint.

The West has accused Russia of fueling the unrest in Ukraine’s east and failing to use its influence on the pro-Russian insurgents.

“For seven days, Russia has refused to take a single concrete step in the right direction,” U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

“Not a single Russian official, not one, has publicly gone on television in Ukraine and called on the separatists to support the Geneva agreement, to support the stand-down, to give up their weapons, and get out of the Ukrainian buildings,” Kerry said.

Lavrov said on Friday the militia in the east “will be ready” to lay down arms and vacate the buildings “only if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized.”

Moscow in March recognized a hastily called referendum in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed it weeks later, attracting condemnation of the West as well as sanctions targeting individuals. Kerry said that unless Moscow took immediate steps to relax tensions, Washington would impose additional sanctions.

Russia’s economy is already hurting from its involvement in Ukraine.

The Standard & Poor’s credit agency on Friday cut Russia’s credit rating for the first time in more than five years. The main concerns cited by the agency were the flight of capital and the risk to investment in Russia since the Ukraine crisis blew up late last year.

Credit ratings are important for the economy because they determine the cost of borrowing on international markets. Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev sought to play down the downgrade, calling it “partly politically motivated.”

Russia announced new military exercises Thursday involving ground and air forces near its border with Ukraine, swiftly responding to a Ukrainian operation to drive pro-Russia insurgents out of occupied buildings in the east. At least two people were killed in a clash at a checkpoint.

Yuras Karmanau in Donetsk and Julie Pace in Seoul contributed to this report.