New economic sanctions target Russia's biggest businesses

US and EU sanctions increase pressure on Moscow to withdraw support from east Ukrainian rebels

(Image credit: Getty Images)

European Union governments agreed on Thursday to target some of Russia's best-known companies with new sanctions, including natural gas supplier Gazprom and weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov.

The sanctions also single out a number of individuals with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, including businessman Sergei Chemezov, deputy speaker of the Russian lower house Igor Lebedev, and politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. A number of leaders of pro-Russian separatist groups in Ukraine will also be subject to the penalties which including travel bans and asset freezes.

Under the sanctions, Rosneft, Transneft and Gazprom Neft will be prevented from raising long-term debt on European capital markets, The Guardian reports, and the United States is preparing fresh sanctions of its own, including limiting access to a number of Russian banks.

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The moves are designed to censure Russia for its annexation of Crimea and what the West regards as efforts by Moscow to destabilise Ukraine through supporting separatists in the country's east.

The 28 governments of EU member states agreed to impose the new sanctions last week but have spent several days ironing out their announcement and implementation.

Russia's foreign ministry said new penalties showed the European Union had "made its choice against" the current peace road map which aims to bring an end to what Reuters calls the "worst confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War".

According to a Downing Street spokesman, EU leaders agreed that sanctions could be lifted if Russia was seen to be complying with the truce reached last week between Ukraine government forces and pro-Russian rebels.

"If Russia genuinely reverses course, then of course the European Union and others will return to the subject, but there unfortunately has been very little evidence so far and that is why you have the European Union going ahead," the spokesman said.

Barack Obama hailed the EU's new sanctions but said the US remains hopeful that a diplomatic solution will be reached with Moscow: "If Russia fully implements its commitments, these sanctions can be rolled back. If, instead, Russia continues its aggressive actions and violations of international law, the costs will continue to rise."

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