EU sanctions 11 more Ukraine leaders

The European Union has sanctioned 11 additional rebel leaders in Ukraine, as Western powers seek to force a last-hour negotiated solution to the crisis in the separatist-held Eastern regions ahead of an anticipated government crackdown.

The targets include high-level political leaders of two of the most prominent separatist organizations, as well as rebel military officials, the Associated Press reported. The sanctions will go into effect on Saturday, and raise the total number of individuals hit by EU penalties to 72.

The move drew condemnation from the Kremlin.

Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian envoy to the EU, told Interfax that "blacklisting opponents isn't helping to build a dialogue with them."

Pro-Russian separatists have refused to join a ceasefire agreement offered by Kiev intended to facilitate political negotiations over the future of the country.

That’s built expectations that Kiev will move ahead with a crackdown in Donetsk, the stronghold of the rebellion movement. The New York Times reported Saturday that the city was quickly becoming a ghost town, with restaurants boarded up and many residents fleeing for other parts of the country. 

In a phone call with Vice President Biden earlier this week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Moscow and rebel leaders had refused multiple proposed venues for peace talks intended to end the months-long crisis. 

The apparent impasse surfaced just after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a phone call with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he supported “a swift renewal of the ceasefire” and meetings between separatists and Kiev, according to the Kremlin.

According to Hollande's office, the French and German leaders also asked Putin to take “concrete measures required to control the Russia-Ukraine border.” The U.S. and Europe say Russia has been allowing mercenaries and heavy artillery, including tanks and rocket launchers, to cross from Russia into Ukraine to assist the separatists. 

The White House indicated Thursday that it could move forward with the long-threatened next round of sanctions against Russia over the inability to resume peace talks.

“The Vice President told President Poroshenko that the United States was discussing with its partners in the international community the need to hold Russia accountable for its continued support for the separatists, including its provision of heavy weapons and equipment across the border,” the vice president's office said.

Press secretary Josh Earnest brushed aside criticism Thursday that the administration had already waited too long to take further action against Moscow. 

“The United States, in concert with our allies, stands prepared to act, if necessary,” he said. “And it’s important to understand the goal that we’re pursuing here. We’re not just pursuing a temporary halt to the violence — although we’d certainly welcome that. We want to make sure that Russia understands that the United States and the international community will not stand by as they continue to try to destabilize the political situation and the economy in Ukraine.”