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U.S. and Russia trade tit-for-tat sanctions

BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON: U.S. President Obama announced a new round of punitive measures Thursday for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, as European leaders also prepared to hit Russia with fresh sanctions.

But in Moscow, where the lower house of parliament rubber-stamped the annexation of the peninsula, Russia issued its own list of sanctions against nine U.S. officials, including senior political figures and presidential aides.

Meanwhile, Russia’s defense chief assured U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russian forces along Ukraine’s eastern border had no intention of crossing into Ukrainian territory.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said Hagel discussed Ukraine with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an hourlong phone conversation.

“Secretary Hagel appreciated Minister Shoigu’s time and the minister’s assurance that the troops he has arrayed along the border are there to conduct exercises only, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine and that they would take no aggressive action,” Kirby said.

Asked whether Hagel accepted that explanation, Kirby said Hagel expects Shoigu “will meet his word.”

When Hagel asked how long the Russian military training exercise would last, Shoigu said he could offer “no firm timetable,” Kirby said, adding that Hagel had initiated the call.

Hagel asserted to his Russian counterpart that because Russian forces were in control of the Crimean peninsula, they would bear responsibility for what happens there, Kirby said.

Obama, who threatened to target the broader Russian economy if Moscow did not reverse course, said: “ Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community.”

The latest U.S. measures in the crisis target a new list of 20 lawmakers and senior government officials in addition to 11 people already sanctioned by Washington.

Among those named are top businessmen close to President Vladimir Putin, including billionaires Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, plus a bank used by close associates.

In turn, Moscow listed Obama aides Caroline Atkinson, Daniel Pfeiffer and Benjamin Rhodes, and senators Mary Landrieu, John McCain and Daniel Coats.

“There should be no doubt: Each hostile attack will be met in an adequate manner,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, while Putin’s spokesman slammed Obama’s move as “unacceptable.”

In Brussels, where the EU was gathering for its second summit on Ukraine in less than two weeks, French President Francois Hollande insisted: “Borders cannot be redrawn and a region allowed to pass from one nation to another without a response.”

Hollande said the bloc’s leaders would announce fresh sanctions at the two-day meeting “against a certain number of figures” and would cancel an EU-Russian summit planned for June. The EU sanctions target at least 12 individuals, “all of them Russian,” and all highly placed, including advisers to Putin, “but there are no government ministers” among them, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.The list includes Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who heads Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission and was also targeted by Washington.

But the EU nations, heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, are divided on how far they should go, with many reluctant to impose tough sanctions.

“We are ready in case of further escalation to introduce economic sanctions,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which is Russia’s top EU trading partner.

Kiev interim Premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk will be in Brussels Friday to sign the political parts of a broad EU Association Agreement, the rejection of which in November by Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych sparked the protests that led to his downfall.

Sanctions and calls for talks have so far done nothing to halt Russian military advances, with Kiev’s new government preparing a Crimean evacuation plan for thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and their families.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

U.S. President Obama announced a new round of punitive measures Thursday for Moscow's annexation of Crimea, as European leaders also prepared to hit Russia with fresh sanctions.

Russia's defense chief assured U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russian forces along Ukraine's eastern border had no intention of crossing into Ukrainian territory.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said Hagel discussed Ukraine with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an hourlong phone conversation.

When Hagel asked how long the Russian military training exercise would last, Shoigu said he could offer "no firm timetable," Kirby said, adding that Hagel had initiated the call.


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