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Ukraine: International Observers Arrested, More Sanctions Approved

The leaders of the world's largest economies are poised to punish Russia over its role in Ukraine's crisis with a new round of sanctions the Group of Seven approved Friday. The same day, a team of European monitors was arrested in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists.

The G7 leaders say the sanctions are a response to Moscow's lack of action on pledges made during recent talks in Geneva that were meant to calm the tense situation in Ukraine.

From Brussels, Teri Schultz reports for NPR's Newscast unit:

"New measures could be enacted as early as Monday, expected to take aim at individuals and companies critical to the Russian economy.

"In a statement, the G7 says leaders 'have committed to act urgently to intensify targeted sanctions and measures to increase the costs of Russia's actions' in Ukraine. It underscores the necessity of stabilizing the situation in order to hold 'successful and peaceful' democratic elections scheduled for next month in Ukraine.

"In eastern Ukraine, a team of military observers from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Sweden is still being held after its bus was seized by armed pro-Russian militants at a checkpoint in Slovyansk Friday night."

Those international observers were part of a mission conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The organization says that the "military verification team" was sent to the Donetsk region upon the invitation of Ukrainian officials.

The separatists say the eight members of the team were spying for NATO, noting that they had military documents from countries outside of Ukraine. Reuters notes that "it is standard practice for serving military officers to be seconded to OSCE missions.

"It is critical that we use all diplomatic channels to free this team immediately and unhurt," said Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, which led the team.

"Russia's envoy to the OSCE said Moscow would take all steps to free the observers," Reuters says, citing Russian news agencies.

As The Associated Press reports, the war of words between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian officials continues:

" 'The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people,' Lavrov said. ...

"Ukraine's reaction was swift.

" 'The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia is already keen on starting World War III,' Ukraine's acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a meeting of his Cabinet."

Around 150 American troops landed in Lithuania Saturday to take part in training and war games, part of a new NATO deployment to Baltic states that also includes a show of force in Poland, Estonia and Latvia.

The exercises involving the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) in Latvia, where members of the unit landed Friday, were "not previously scheduled," the Army's website notes.

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