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EU imposes new sanctions on Russia, holds off tougher penalties

BERLIN — The European Union agreed Tuesday to expand a list of Russian entities and individuals subject to asset freezes and travel bans and threatened to target vast sectors of the Russian economy if Moscow did not act swiftly to rein in rebels believed to have shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine.

But EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels stopped well short of immediately carrying out vows in some countries to jump quickly to so-called phase three sanctions that could cripple the Russian economy.

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Rather, they agreed to prepare by Thursday a list of possible options, including a potential arms embargo, limits on dual-technology sales, and, more importantly, measures targeting the energy and financial sectors.

Such measures could be imposed later only if Russia does not force pro-Moscow separatists to grant unfettered access to the crash site and fulfill its pledge to cooperate with an international investigation.

The ministers agreed to draft a new set of names to be added to the 63 individuals and entities already targeted by the Europeans for destabilizing Ukraine. While the United States has sanctioned multiple officials in the inner circle of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, as well as major Russian companies, Europe so far has avoided taking such a confrontational stance.

The action Tuesday suggested that the Europeans are now preparing to follow suit and hit those close to Putin harder.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC the new list of names would target Putin ‘‘cronies.’’ He said the process for establishing broader-based sanctions was ‘‘moving forward at pace.’’

‘We've increased the number of EU members who are beginning to’ take a hard-line stance on Russia.

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‘‘We've increased the number of EU members who are beginning to think like us,’’ Hammond said, referring to Britain’s hard-line stance on holding Russia accountable.

Tuesday’s meeting was characterized by ‘‘deep sorrow, but also increasing anger,’’ tweeted Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden.

Nevertheless, even the official threat of sectoral sanctions — and a pledge to draft a list of options this week — goes further than the Europeans have ever been willing to go before.

Igor Sutyagin, a defense analyst with the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said a ban on the sale of European weapons components would strike a blow to the Russian military’s ability to modernize its arsenal.

‘‘Not that many actual arms are sold from Europe to Russia, but there are lots of components for Russian-made systems,’’ he said. ‘‘They rely on Western machinery.’’

But Sutyagin said any outright ban could also do serious damage to the European defense industry. The French, for instance, are preparing to deliver two warships to the Russians — one due this year and one next year. A halt to the sale could be devastating for the French shipyard at Saint-Nazaire.

The shipyard has 2,500 workers, Sutyagin said. ‘‘There are no other orders, so if this one’s canceled, you'd just have to shut it down.’’

France has strongly resisted pulling out of the $1.7 billion sale. On Monday, however, President Francois Hollande said Paris would not terminate the sale of the first craft, which has already been paid for, but he left open the option of canceling the second ship if Russia did not change course.

Citing mounting evidence, Kiev and Washington have built a case that a Russian-made missile fired by pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine brought down the Boeing 777 airliner, killing all 298 people on board, nearly two-thirds of them Dutch citizens.

Going into the meeting, European diplomats were divided about the strength of sanctions, and several nations — especially those with strong economic ties to Russia — remained cautious. But others signaled new willingness to press Moscow amid a surge of public outrage across the continent.

In Washington, President Obama visited the Dutch Embassy to sign a condolence book Tuesday morning. ‘‘Obviously, we are all heartbroken,’’ he told reporters. He said he wanted to ‘‘express our solidarity with the people of the Netherlands,’’ adding that ‘‘we will work with them to make sure their loved ones are recovered’’ and justice is done.

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