Sun Jan 25, 2015 1:34AM
US Secretary of State John Kerry has called on Moscow to “immediately” stop backing pro-Russian forces in Ukraine following deaths of dozens in recent bombings.
“We call on Russia to end its support for separatists immediately, close the international border with Ukraine, and withdraw all weapons, fighters and financial backing,” Kerry said during a visit to Zurich on Saturday.
“Otherwise, US and international pressure on Russia and its proxies will only increase,” he warned.
At least 30 people were killed Saturday in the strategic port city of Mariupol, situated on the Sea of Azov, when Grad rockets were fired into the city in a major escalation of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“I join my European counterparts in condemning in the strongest terms today’s horrific assault by Russia-backed separatists on civilian neighborhoods in Mariupol,” Kerry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the leader of Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, announced the beginning of a major operation against the government-held city of Mariupol.
Kerry said the assault was “in blatant violation of the Minsk (peace) agreements they signed”.
The new offensive “has been aided and abetted by Russia`s irresponsible and dangerous decision to resupply them in recent weeks with hundreds of new pieces of advanced weaponry, including rocket systems, heavy artillery, tanks, armored vehicles, in addition to continuing operational command and control,” he added.
Russia insists it does not support the fighters.
Mariupol, a major city under government control, is located between mainland Russia and the Crimean Peninsula.
Tensions between Russia and the West heightened after Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17 and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum a day earlier, in which 96.8 percent of participants voted in favor of the secession.
The United States and the European Union have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 5,100 people since April, according to the United Nations.