Kerry warns Russia as peace talks falter

Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryCutting corners in a federal campaign is criminal Navy investigation concludes Iran broke international law by detaining sailors Top Democrat wants Obama to block Boeing's deal with Iran MORE voiced his “strong concern” to Moscow on Tuesday as peace talks between pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and the government in Kiev appeared on the brink of collapse.

Kerry told Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a call that he was upset by "the refusal of Russian-supported separatists to take the necessary steps and provide the kinds of assurances” to allow a ceasefire and further negotiations, according to a State Department spokesman.

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"He reiterated our support for the Ukrainians and their right to defend themselves and highlighted the efforts the Ukrainian government had made to reach out to Russian-backed separatists," the spokesman added. 

"He also made clear that we and our European and international partners will continue to press Russia to end all support and weapons flowing to separatists, to do more to control the border, to call on separatists to lay down their arms, to return the border checkpoints they hold to Ukrainian government control, and to release all remaining hostages."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday ordered air and artillery strikes against rebel bases and checkpoints, ending a fragile ceasefire. 

The weeklong pause in military action was intended to give negotiators an opportunity for a political settlement, but pro-Russian separatist attacks killed 27 Ukrainian servicemen and wounded another 69 during the ceasefire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the renewed violence, saying he was unable to convince Poroshenko "that war cannot lead to well-established and lasting peace."

"Up until now, President Poroshenko was not directly involved with orders to start military action," Putin said, according to the BBC. "He has now assumed this responsibility fully — not only militarily, but also politically."

Last week, the White House hinted it would move to impose additional economic sanctions if Russia failed to muscle separatists to make a number of concessions by Monday. But pressed on the deadline, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was still evaluating its options.

The so-called "scalpel sanctions" would narrowly target Russia's technology, defense and financial sectors. The penalties would likely ban U.S. companies and financial institutions from doing business with major Russian banks, prevent technology transfers to Russia’s natural gas industries, and block deals with Russian defense companies.

"We remain prepared to act, if necessary, to further isolate Russia," Earnest said. 

Earnest accused Putin of lacking "a seriousness of purpose when it comes to deescalating the situation in eastern Ukraine."

"If they continue to take the actions that we have urged them not to do ... they are at risk," he warned.