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Pro-Russian armed separatists guard a street near an administrative building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on May 6, 2014. (KONSTANTIN CHERNICHKIN/REUTERS)
Pro-Russian armed separatists guard a street near an administrative building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on May 6, 2014. (KONSTANTIN CHERNICHKIN/REUTERS)

Russia bars Canadian, U.S. officials as Ukraine separatists rebuff Putin Add to ...

Moscow has retaliated against sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada last month by expanding its lists of American and Canadian officials barred from Russia, but will not name those affected, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

On April 28, the United States slapped visa bans and asset freezes on seven Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin and imposed sanctions on 17 companies, saying Moscow had failed to abide by an agreement to defuse the crisis in Ukraine. The United States had imposed sanctions on 31 individuals and a Russian bank in March, and Canada has also announced successive rounds of sanctions over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region and its role in the Ukraine crisis.

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“Sanctions are not our method in general, but unfriendly actions force us to respond. The most recent sanctions [imposed by] Washington and Ottawa are no exception,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

“Unlike the Americans and Canadians, we have not put on a show,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich, adding that those who are barred from Russia “will find out when they apply for a visa.”

UKRAINE BORDER POST ATTACKED

About 40 armed men attacked a Ukrainian border post on the frontier with Russia on Thursday and tried to seize control of it, but were beaten off by Ukrainian forces, the border guard in Kiev said.

It said two minivans arrived at the border as if about to leave Ukraine at the Izvarino crossing point in the eastern region of Luhansk, a hotbed of pro-Russian insurgency. The men jumped out of the vehicles, surrounded the post, pointed their rifles and demanded guards lay down their weapons.

The border guards refused and opened fire, the assailants replying with gas bombs. The attack ended with the men fleeing. The Border Guard office said steps were being taken to reinforce the post.

SEPARATISTS IGNORE PUTIN'S CALL TO DELAY REFERENDUM

Pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine ignored Putin's public call to postpone a referendum on self-rule, declaring they would go ahead on Sunday with a vote that could lead to war.

Denis Pushilin, a leader of the self-declared separatist People’s Republic of Donetsk, said the “People’s Council” had voted unanimously on Thursday to hold the plebiscite as planned. “Civil war has already begun,” he told reporters. “The referendum can put a stop to it and start a political process.”

The decision, which contradicted the conciliatory tone set by Putin just a day earlier, caused consternation in the West, which fears the referendum will tear Ukraine apart. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said Russia was heading down a “dangerous and irresponsible path” and the situation in Ukraine was “extremely combustible.”

In Kiev, officials promised to press on with their “anti-terrorist campaign” to retake control over the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regardless of the rebels’ decision on the poll.

Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin needed more information about the rebel’s decision. He said the rebel statement came only after Kiev had declared it would press on with its military operation, implying that Ukraine was to blame for the rebels’ refusal to heed Putin.

RUSSIA RUNS ROCKET TESTS

In a further shift from reconciliation, Putin oversaw test launches of military rockets during training exercises held across Russia on Thursday, the day before celebrations of the anniversary of its Second World War victory.

The West has accused Russia of using previous military exercises to build up forces along the border with Ukraine after its Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in February.

RUSSIA, NATO FEUD OVER WHETHER TROOPS HAVE WITHDRAWN

Russia’s Foreign Ministry suggested on Thursday that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was “blind” after he wrote he had seen no signs Russia was withdrawing troops from Ukraine’s border.

Rasmussen’s statement on Twitter directly contradicted Putin's announcement on Wednesday that Moscow had withdrawn troops. “For those with a blind eye we suggest to follow President Putin’s statement of May 7,” the ministry tweeted in English in response to the Rasmussen post.

In a later tweet, Rasmussen said: “I have very good vision but while we've noted Russia's statement so far we haven't seen any – any – indication of troops pulling back.”

DRAFT PEACE PROPOSALS WELCOMED IN KIEV

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said a draft road map presented in Kiev on Thursday by international mediators to settle the country’s crisis with Russia had “some common ground” with its own proposals.

Information department head Yevgeny Perebinis said in an interview with “Fifth Channel” television, reported by the Interfax-Ukraine agency, that there was no demand that Ukrainian forces halt what he called “Anti-Terrorist Operations” against pro-Russian separatist militants in the east of the country.

A draft of a “Road Map” drawn up by the Swiss chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and seen by Reuters said Ukraine had the right to use its security forces “in a proportionate manner” to prevent violence.

It said both sides should refrain from “violence, intimidation or provocative actions.”

With a report from Globe staff

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