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Obama joins Europe in expanding sanctions on Russia

WASHINGTON — President Obama announced expanded sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, just hours after the European Union imposed its most sweeping measures yet penalizing Moscow for its role in supporting separatists in neighboring Ukraine.

The latest US actions took aim at more Russian banks and a large defense firm, but they also went further than past moves by blocking future technology sales to Russia’s lucrative oil industry in an effort to inhibit its ability to develop future resources. The measures were meant to largely match those unveiled earlier in the day in Europe.

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“Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” Obama said.

Obama said the government of President Vladimir Putin had gone beyond past support for pro-Russia separatists fighting the central Ukrainian government in Kiev and was now directly participating in the conflict by firing artillery across the border, transporting more military equipment to the rebels, and massing its own troops.

“In other words, today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to come to this. It didn’t have to come to this. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made.”

But in response to a reporter’s question, Obama suggested he was not considering providing arms to Ukraine’s government, as some Republicans have urged.

“They are better armed than the separatists,” he said. “The issue is how do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. We’re trying to avoid that. And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.”

The carefully orchestrated actions on both sides of the Atlantic were designed to demonstrate solidarity in the face of what US and European officials say has been a stark escalation by Russia in the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Until now, European leaders have resisted the broader sorts of actions they agreed to Tuesday, and their decision to back such stiff sanctions reflected increasing alarm that Russia is not only helping separatists in Ukraine but directly involving itself in the fighting.

They are “meant as a strong warning,” said Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, in a statement Tuesday that was joined by José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission.

“Destabilizing Ukraine, or any other Eastern European neighboring state, will bring heavy costs,” the statement said.

The Obama administration’s sanctions were intended to largely, though not precisely, match the Europeans’. In addition to the oil technology limits, the US decision adds three more banks to the list of those cut off from medium- and long-term capital financing, including VTB Bank, one of the largest in Russia.

The administration added United Shipbuilding Corp., a state-owned firm created by Putin in 2007, to its list of military companies banned from doing business with Americans. Although the United States did not impose an arms embargo as the European Union decided to do, US officials argued that the series of sanctions they have imposed over the last few months on defense firms comes close to achieving the same result.

European governments moved ahead despite concerns that Europe would also pay an economic price for confronting the Kremlin more aggressively. The new sanctions, which are meant to hit significant parts of the Russian economy including its banks and its energy industry, could take effect as soon as Aug. 1, though the necessary legal formalities were probably going to take longer to complete, officials said.

Full details of the new European sanctions were not expected to be published until later in the week, but the European Union issued a fact sheet Tuesday afternoon outlining the main points.

Russia’s state-owned banks and development banks, which often raise money in Western financial markets, are a principal target. The sanctions bar European banks or individual investors from buying or trading in new bonds or securities issued by those banks with a maturity longer than 90 days.

The sanctions also impose an embargo on new sales of arms to Russia, or dual-use goods — those with both civilian and military uses — to Russian military buyers. Existing deals, such as the French contract to supply Russia with warships, would not be affected, said diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday because the agreement had not yet been formally announced.

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