Ukraine conflict: US and EU widen sanctions on Russia (culled from BBC)

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US President Barack Obama has announced new economic sanctions against Russia.

They include banning people in the US from banking with three Russian banks. The EU earlier expanded its sanctions, targeting the oil sector, defence equipment and sensitive technologies.

But Australia’s priority is to get access to the crash site of the downed MH17 flight in east Ukraine.

International experts cannot reach the site due to heavy fighting between Ukraine’s army and pro-Russia rebels.
Growing cost

Russia has come under increased pressure to end its support for the rebels, who Western governments believe were behind the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jet that killed 298 people in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has also been accused by the EU and US of supplying heavy weapons to the rebels – a charge it denies.

Mr Obama said the US was widening its sanctions to target the key sectors of the Russian economy – energy, arms and finance.

“If Russia continues on this current path, the costs on Russia will continue to grow,” Mr Obama said.

The US Treasury said the banks being targeting in this round of sanctions were VTB, the Bank of Moscow, and the Russian Agriculture Bank (Rosselkhozbank).

Sanctions are having significant costs on Russia, with its central bank spending tens of billions of dollars in order to defend the rouble, a senior state department official has told the BBC.

Full details of the new EU sanctions are expected on Wednesday, when the EU is also set to name more Russian officials facing asset freezes and travel bans in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the latest measures as “unavoidable”.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, told the BBC: “I am disappointed because the EU is slipping along the tracks that lead nowhere.”

He said that he believed Ukraine should be subject to sanctions for its role in the conflict in the country’s east.

But Australia’s Tony Abbott said on Wednesday his government was focusing on retrieving Australian victims from the MH17 wreckage: “At the moment our focus is not on sanctions, our focus is on bringing home our dead as quickly as we humanly can.”

the EU subjected a further 15 Russian individuals and 18 entities to asset freezes and visa bans for their alleged involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

The list of 87 targets of EU sanctions now includes the heads of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and foreign intelligence, the president of Chechnya, as well as two Crimean energy firms.

However, UK company BP, which owns nearly 20% of Russian state oil giant Rosneft, has warned that further sanctions against Russia could “adversely impact” its performance.

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