By Mario Trujillo - 07/16/14 05:30 PM EDT
The Obama administration on Wednesday widened sanctions against Russia to punish its government for contributing to violence in Ukraine.
The sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department would ban people in the United States from providing new financing to two major Russian banks and two major Russian energy firms, which would in effect limit their access to U.S. capital markets.
An administration official described the steps and a “broad, flexible and potent tool,” and warned that further steps could be taken.
There is still an off ramp for Russia, the White House said. Obama called on Russia to take steps to calm the continued violence in eastern Ukraine specifically by agreeing to a ceasefire and halting the flow of weapons and fighters to Russian separatists in Ukraine. He also called for international mediated talks and monitors allowed on the border.
"So far, Russia has failed to take any of the steps that I mentioned," Obama said. "In fact Russia's support for the separatists and violations of Ukraine's sovereignty has continued."
Administration officials said the new sanctions are being imposed because Russia is continuing to violate the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine. The White House has accused Russia of providing support to pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine who have battled the Ukrainian government.
The administration also imposed sanctions on four Russian officials and blocked the assets of eight Russia state-owned defense technology firms that produce weapons such as small arms, mortar shells, surface-to-air missiles and tanks.
The four Russian officials sanctioned included an aide to President Vladimir Putin, the country's minister to Crimea, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service and the deputy chairman of the country's legislature.
Treasury also blocked the assets of two Russian separatist groups operating in eastern Ukraine and their leader, and restricted any person in the United States from doing business with an oil shipping facility in Crimea, a former region of Ukraine annexed by Russia earlier this year.
Earlier this year, the White House green-lighted sanctions on dozens of Russian officials.
At the time, Obama also signed an executive order that allowed him to impose sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy. It’s this part of that order that was used on Wednesday.
Russia annexed Crimea after people in that region voted to secede from Ukraine amid an increased Russian troop presence there.
Since then, turmoil has brewed in Ukraine as pro-Russian separatists have taken over a number of sections of eastern Ukraine, which has a large population of ethnic Russians.
Obama noted that Ukraine has made a number of reforms since electing a new president earlier this year, saying "Ukrainians deserve the right to forge their own destiny."
This story was last updated at 6:30 p.m.