Ukraine rekindles Nato aspirations, angering Russia
Dmitry Medvedev warns of 'extremely negative consequences' after Kiev drops non-aligned status
Ukraine rekindled its aspirations to join Nato this week by ending its status as a non-aligned nation, drawing a quick rebuke from Russia.
Ukraine pursued Nato membership ten years ago after electing a pro-Western government, but when the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych came into power in 2010 it declared itself "non-aligned", a classification given to countries that refuse to join military alliances.
Yanukovych has since been ousted and MPs yesterday voted to drop the country's neutral status, making it clear that the move was a response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and alleged intervention in the east of the country over the past year.
Pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Kiev forces in Donetsk and other eastern regions since April, although a shaky ceasefire has held in recent weeks. Peace talks were expected to take place in Minsk, Belarus, this week. But Russia, which has long seen Nato's expansion as a threat, yesterday condemned Ukraine's decision to drop its non-aligned status.
"This is counterproductive and only worsens confrontation, creates the illusion that the path of taking up such laws can solve the deep inner crisis in Ukraine," said the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
Kiev is unlikely to join Nato any time soon, says the Daily Telegraph, but lifting its restriction on joining security blocs "clears the way for an accession at a later date".
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said it was "effectively an application to join Nato, turning Ukraine into a potential military opponent of Russia". He warned that Moscow "will have to react" and said the decision would have "extremely negative consequences".
Medvedev's warning came as Moscow threatened to stop delivering natural gas to Ukraine if it failed to pay Gazprom the $1.6bn it owes in arrears, scheduled to be paid in January. According to the Moscow Times, Ukraine's state energy firm Naftogaz says it has now transferred the money. Russia has repeatedly shut off supplies when Ukraine has failed to pay its bills.
US claims Russia fired rockets into Ukraine
One week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in Ukraine, US officials say Russia has fired artillery across the border into its neighbour – and intends to hand rocket launchers to Ukrainian rebels.
The US State Department's Marie Harf told reporters that "human intelligence information" proved that artillery had been fired across the border from Russia, targeting Ukrainian military positions.
She also said Russia intends "to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to the rebels, the BBC reports.
While the US has stopped short of claiming Russian forces shot down the passenger jet, it has blamed the incident on pro-Russian rebels using an SA-11 Buk surface-to-air missile provided by Russia. The Kremlin has frequently denied arming the rebels.
Rebel commanders have given conflicting accounts of whether or not they possessed such a missile launcher. It is not thought to be possible that the plane could have been shot down with lighter arms such as a shoulder-mounted missile.
In Moscow meanwhile, though the majority of citizens don't believe pro-Russian rebels had any involvement in the incident, notes apologising for the disaster with flowers and cards have been left at the Dutch embassy, says Sky News.
Of the 298 people on board the plane, 193 were Dutch citizens. The first military aircraft bringing bodies back to Holland began to arrive on Wednesday, greeted by mourners and the country's king and queen.
In the UK, air crash investigators have successfully extracted data from the plane's two black box flight recorders. They are looking for voice recordings of the last moments of the flight.
On Thursday, the EU announced it was stepping up sanctions against Russia, put in place earlier in the year over fears Russia was arming rebels and had annexed Crimea. Fifteen people and 18 entities were added to the sanction list.
Russia's ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, condemned the sanctions as "illegal, unreasonable and counterproductive".