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Washington — Spurred to new action by the downing of the Malaysian airliner, the European Union approved dramatically tougher economic sanctions Tuesday against Russia, followed swiftly by a new round of U.S. penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy.
The coordinated sanctions were aimed at increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine whom the West blames for taking down the passenger jet nearly two weeks ago. President Barack Obama and U.S. allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.
"Today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress," Obama said. "It does not have to be this way. This a choice Russia and President Putin has made."
Europe's actions were particularly significant given that the continent has a far stronger economic relationship with Russia than the U.S. does Until this week, the EU sanctions had lagged behind American penalties, in part because of leaders' concerns about a negative impact on their own economies.
But Europe's calculus shifted sharply after a surface-to-air missile brought down the passenger jet, killing nearly 300 people including more than 200 Europeans.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the sanctions sent a "strong warning" that Russia's destabilization of Ukraine cannot be tolerated.
"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 new European penalties include 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 particularly sensitive, such as advanced equipment used in deep-sea and Arctic oil drilling.
To restrict Russia's access to Europe's money markets, EU citizens and banks will be barred from purchasing certain bonds or stocks issued by state-owned Russian banks, according to EU officials. Those officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements.
The new EU sanctions mirror steps announced by the U.S. the day before the Malaysian airliner was shot out of the sky. The White House has been pressing Europe in recent days to bring its penalties in line with the U.S., both to increase the economic pressure on Moscow and present a united Western front.
As part of that effort, Obama also announced an expansion of the U.S. sanctions on Russian economic sectors. Among the targets were three major Russian banks: the Bank of Moscow, Russian Agricultural Bank and VTB Bank, Russia's second largest bank.
The U.S. is also targeting the St. Petersburg-based United Shipbuilding Corporation, a defense technologies firm.