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Chonhar (Ukraine) (AFP) - Pro-Kremlin gunmen kept foreign observers from entering Crimea on Friday as Russia welcomed the prospect of the Ukrainian peninsula joining the country amid the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. Russia's state-run energy giant Gazprom threatened to cut off Ukraine in a move that could affect other parts of Europe from gas shipments in a seeming tit-for-tat response to an EU vow to toughen sanctions against Moscow unless it opened talks with Kiev. The developments underscored the Kremlin's resolve to stand its ground over a flareup that has both endangered European security and tested the West's commitment to uphold the sovereignty and safety of the vast ex-Soviet state. The observer mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is a crucial part of the so-called "off-ramp" US President Barack Obama is pushing to de-escalate a crisis that threatens to splinter the nation of 46 million.
BEIRUT (AP) — Once a vibrant, religiously mixed community, Syria's eastern city of Raqqa is now a shell of its former self, terrorized by hard-line militants who have turned it into the nucleus of their vision for the Islamic caliphate they hope one day to establish in Syria and Iraq.
Russian energy giant Gazprom on Friday warned Ukraine it could cut off gas exports if the new authorities in Kiev did not pay a bill for debt that now stands at $1.89 billion. "Ukraine has de-facto stopped paying for gas... We cannot deliver gas for free. Either Ukraine pays the debt and pays for current supplies or the risk appears of a return to the situation at the start of 2009," said Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller, quoted by Russian news agencies. Gazprom in 2009 cut off gas to Ukraine in a move that also left much of the EU without supplies.