Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured on July 21, 2014.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. is hitting Russia harder than it ever has before with a new round of sanctions that target an already weak Russian economy in its energy, arms and finance sectors. Now, with the European Union on board, Obama said these sanctions will have "an even bigger bite" on Russia.
Despite multiple warnings from Western leaders, Russia has intensified its military action near the border with Ukraine in the weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, slowly but steadily amassing more than 12,000 troops at the boundary line.
"If Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow," Obama said."If Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow," Obama said. "This is a choice that Russia, [President Vladimir Putin] in particular, has made."
The new round of sanctions, which build upon those that the U.S. unleashed two weeks ago, are against Russian banks and a shipbuilding company in St. Petersburg. The U.S. is formally suspending credit that encourages exports to Russia in an effort to wound its energy sector. Also included is an arms embargo on Moscow and a ban on the unapproved sale to the Russians of technology that has dual military and civilian uses or is sensitive, such as advanced equipment used in deep-sea and Arctic oil drilling.
The sanctions are in response to Russia's support of the separatists who have been impeding the investigation of MH17 by turning the area into a war zone against Ukrainian forces. Obama said on Tuesday that, as scores of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the crossfire, Russia continues to support, encourage, train and arm the separatists.
After months of pushing from the U.S., the EU finally approved the dramatically tougher economic sanctions Tuesday — a gut punch for Russia's economy, which is intertwined with Europe.
To restrict Russia's access to Europe's capital markets, EU citizens and banks will be barred from purchasing certain bonds or stocks issued by state-owned Russian banks, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements.
"Furthermore, when the violence created spirals out of control and leads to the killing of almost 300 innocent civilians in their flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia, the situation requires urgent and determined response," the two top EU officials said in a statement.
The U.S. and the EU have been piling on sanctions against Putin ever since Russia pressed on with annexing Crimea from Ukraine. Now, he doesn't seem to be removing his hands from Ukraine's east either as top intelligence officials say Russia's increased troop movement is "unquestionably an escalation from a military perspective."
Until now, past sanctions have only targeted Putin's inner circle — specific individuals, businesses or rebel organizations. Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of those sanctions, the U.S. and European Union are hoping these latest measures will provide a one-two punch against the Russian economy.
In a rare videoconference call with Obama on Monday, the leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy and France expressed their willingness to adopt new sanctions against Russia in coordination with the United States, an official French statement said. The Western nations are demanding Russia halt the alleged supply of arms to Ukrainian separatists and other actions that destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine.
Although eastern Ukraine for months has been a battleground between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces, the tension has radically increased since MH17 was shot down. At least 22 civilians were killed on Tuesday as violence spilled over into cities and residential areas, forcing many people to flee their homes.
Obama reiterated on Tuesday that the U.S. supports the Ukrainian government, which has tried to more closely align itself with the EU by signing a trade agreement last month.
Additional information in this report provided by the Associated Press.
Tags: RUSSIA, U.S., Ukraine, US & World, WORLD