Report: EU readies sanctions against Russian firms

 

European Union leaders could impose a new round of sanctions Wednesday against Russian companies deemed to be assisting separatists in Ukraine, according to a draft resolution obtained by Bloomberg News.

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The Europeans may also halt lending for investment projects in Russia and restrict trade with Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by the Kremlin in March, according to the document.

The 28 member states of the EU will consider the “expansion of restrictive measures” Wednesday at a summit in Brussels amid growing pressure from the United States.

On Wednesday,  White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. was prepared to "take the kinds of steps that we feel are necessary in response to Russia's refusal to take some pretty common-sense basic steps to de-escalating the conflict in Ukraine."

But the press secretary said it would be "pretty unwise" for the White House to "send a very clear signal about the timing or content" of additional penalties because it would give individuals a chance to move their money before the sanctions hit.

"Suffice it to say we have not seen the kind of steps we'd like to see from Russia," Earnest said.

At a meeting at the White House on Monday, administration officials urged EU ambassadors to strengthen penalties against Moscow. The U.S. says Russia has failed to support a bilateral ceasefire, has not urged the release of hostages held by the rebels, and continues to enable the flow of heavy weapons, equipment and mercenaries into Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Earnest said the U.S. had “been working in very close coordination with our allies to impose costs on Russia for their destabilizing actions along the border with Ukraine.” The White House also reported that President Obama had spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about additional penalties.

“Suffice it to say that conversations that are actively being held among the United States and our allies about the next step — and each day that goes by that Russia doesn’t take the kind of very specific steps that I’ve laid out here many times Russia is at greater risk of facing the kinds of economic costs that have been imposed on them in the past,” Earnest said.

Separately, The Associated Press reported that the United States was preparing to unilaterally impose a new round of sanctions on its own, if Europeans did not vote to increase penalties against Moscow.

Obama is content to wait until after the meeting in Brussels, a U.S. official told the wire service. The U.S. prefers to impose sanctions in concert with Europe because the close economic ties between the continent and Russia give their penalties more weight.

But with some European leaders apparently balking at the proposed package, the U.S. is preparing to go at it alone.

It’s not entirely clear what those new penalties would include. But administration officials in recent weeks have discussed "scalpel sanctions" that would narrowly target Russia's technology, defense and financial sectors for weeks.

The penalties would likely ban U.S. companies and financial institutions from doing business with major Russian banks, prevent technology transfers to Russia’s natural gas industries and block deals with Russian defense companies.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have criticized the administration for not having already moved on additional penalties, saying the failure to do so undermines the nation’s credibility.

"Sometimes I'm embarrassed for you, as you constantly talk about sanctions and yet, candidly, we never see them put in place," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week.

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) repeatedly asked, “What are we waiting for?” “Then will we have the summer lapse and Putin will know that there’s no consequences and the United States will stay on the sidelines, waiting for the Europeans?” Menendez said. “Is that something that we could actually expect?”

This story was updated at 2:16 p.m.

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