As Western governments vowed to impose more sanctions against Russia and its supporters in eastern Ukraine, a group of foreign military observers remained in captivity Saturday accused of being NATO spies by a pro-Russia insurgency.
The German-led, eight-member team was traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were detained Friday.
Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed “people’s mayor” of Slovyansk, described the detained observers as “captives” and said that they were officers from NATO member states.
“As we found maps on them containing information about the location of our checkpoints, we get the impression that they are officers carrying out a certain spying mission,” Ponomarev said, adding they could be released in exchange for jailed pro-Russia activists.
Outside Slovyansk, a city about 90 miles west of Russia, Ukraine government forces continued operations to form a security cordon as it attempts to quell unrest threatening to derail the planned May 25 presidential election.
The U.S. and other nations in the Group of Seven said in a joint statement released Friday night by the White House that they plan to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. The West has accused Russia of using covert forces to encourage unrest in Ukraine and says Moscow has done nothing to pressure pro-Russia militias to free police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities across the region.