US slaps sanctions on Ukrainian rebels, Russian bank

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States on Tuesday placed sanctions on eight Ukrainian separatists and a Russian bank, warning that recent attacks by rebels armed by Russia violated a European-brokered ceasefire in the war-torn country.

The sanctions signal Washington is ratcheting up pressure on Moscow a day after accusing Russia of sending tanks and heavy military equipment into Ukraine, which a top US official also said breached the Minsk accord agreed on Feb 12.

"If Russia continues to support destabilising activity in Ukraine and violate the Minsk agreements and implementation plan, the already substantial costs it faces will continue to rise," Adam Szubin, the Treasury Department's acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement announcing the sanctions.

The sanctions ban any US financial firm from doing business with sanctioned individuals or institutions.

Among the more prominent individuals sanctioned was Roman Lyagin, who chairs an election commission in separatist territory. The US Treasury accused him of preventing voting in Ukraine's May presidential election.

Lyagin said he was not a fighter and was playing a peaceful role in the separatists' activities.

"It's the opposite, I do my best to stop the bloodshed," he said.

Washington also sanctioned the Russian National Commercial Bank, which the Treasury said moved into Ukraine's Crimea region after it was annexed by Russia in 2014.