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Ukraine presses offensive as Russia belittles new sanctions

KIEV — The day after the European Union and the United States announced expanded sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Moscow remained defiant, the Ukrainian Army remained on the offensive, and an international team remained unable to reach the crash site of a Malaysian jetliner.

A senior Ukrainian official, Valeriy Chaly, said Wednesday that his country welcomed the expanded sanctions, while Russian officials condemned and belittled them, saying they would prompt Russia to strengthen its economy but would just make a sour diplomatic atmosphere worse.

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Chaly, the deputy chief of Ukraine’s presidential administration, told reporters in Kiev his government would not scale back its offensive against the pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, which he said had already freed 60 cities and towns and more than a million residents from rebel control.

But Chaly denied that the military was trying to seize control of the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by force.

“We are not ready for such a scenario without the agreement of our international partners,” he said. “Our partners have pushed us to find another solution” for specialists to gain access to the site and begin their investigation.

Earlier in the day, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe tried to get to the site but were turned back by reports of fighting and gunfire along the route. And a mission of Dutch police officers and specialists said that after being similarly blocked Monday and Tuesday, they would not attempt the journey Wednesday.

Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the head of a Dutch recovery mission, said he did not “expect the security situation to improve enough over the next few days” to make a visit to the crash site possible.

“The experts have to work in a safe environment,” he said. “Because of all the gunfire in the area, this is currently not possible. This is a reality we have to deal with.”

The government of Belarus, a neighboring country on good terms with both Kiev and Moscow, said Wednesday that it has been asked by President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine to host talks among Ukraine, Russia, and the cooperation group over access to the crash site and other issues, Reuters reported. The office of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus said that “all interested parties” were invited to attend, the news agency reported, but it was not clear whether the separatists would be represented, nor when the talks would convene.

Andriy Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian government’s National Security and Defense Council, said the main obstacle to reaching and securing the wreckage of the plane was rebel resistance.

The Russian government said Ukraine and the United States were fueling the violence in the area.

“It’s not Russia, but the Kiev regime and its overseas sponsors who are to blame for the growing number of victims among the civilian population of the eastern regions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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