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Possible blockade in eastern Ukraine, while Russia’s credit rating takes a hit

The Ukrainian government said Friday it would continue to try to oust pro-Russian militants from eastern Ukraine, including possibly blockading the militants in the eastern city of Slovyansk, calling it an operation to dislodge “terrorists.”

Russia has been running military exercises along Ukraine’s border. Ukrainian officials warned against the crossing of the border by Russian troops.

“The attempts of military aggression on the territory of Ukraine will lead to a military conflict on the territory of Europe. The world hasn’t forgotten the Second World War, and Russia wants to start the Third World War,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in an address before the government on Friday.

A Ukrainian military transport helicopter was hit Friday by a sniper bullet while it was on the ground near an airfield in Slovyansk, Vasyl Krutov, leader of Ukraine’s joint operations Anti-Terrorism Center, told reporters in Kiev. The bullet caused an explosion in the fuel tank and injured the pilot.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine will only lay down their arms if the Ukrainian government rids Kiev’s Maidan Square of pro-Ukrainian protesters.

Also Friday, credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered Russia’s grade from BBB to BBB-, a level above “junk” status. The agency said the ranking could go down even further.

“In our view, the tense geopolitical situation between Russia and Ukraine could see additional significant outflows of both foreign and domestic capital from the Russian economy,” S&P said in a statement.

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, President Obama took time from his Asia tour on Friday to call European allies and tell them the United States is ready to issue new targeted sanctions on Russia, because it has not held up its end of the Geneva agreement to calm the Ukraine crisis.

Mr. Obama spoke to French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi while he was in South Korea.

The April 17 agreement worked out in Geneva by Ukraine, Russia, the United States and European Union included amnesty for those occupying buildings in eastern Ukraine if they left peacefully, and a recommitment to constitutional reform and decentralization. The leaders said Ukraine has been following its end of the deal but Russia has not.

Ukraine is planning to hold presidential elections on May 25.

We’ll have more on the possible new sanctions on Russia on Friday’s PBS NewsHour.

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