US, EU to up Russian sanctions this week

The White House and Europe will implement new sanctions against Russia this week in the wake of its continued assistance to rebels in Eastern Ukraine, deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said Monday.

“We expect the European Union to take significant steps” this week to target Russia’s economy, Blinken said at the White House.

The United States, he said, will also impose additional costs itself.

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President Obama spoke about these next steps in a video conference call on Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Blinken said.

Blinken said it marked the 50th call with European leaders since the beginning of the crisis, adding that Obama has “led the international effort to isolate Russia.”

"Russia is headed for economic contraction, not growth, which is a reversal" because of existing Western sanctions, Blinken said.

Asked why Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t blinked despite these measures, Blinken first said, “We’ve seen him pull back tactically ... he’s clearly sensitive to the pressure that’s been exerted.”

He agreed, however, that the sanctions haven’t done much to change Putin’s calculus.

“That’s why it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures, and that’s what the United States and the Europeans intend to do this week,” he said.

While Blinken didn’t elaborate on the details of the forthcoming sanctions, European Union ambassadors agreed on a preliminary deal Friday that would ban Russia’s access to European financial markets, and defense and energy technology and equipment.

EU officials are scheduled to meet Tuesday to decide what the sanctions will target.

The world leaders discussed the need to recover victims’ remains from the downing of Flight MH17 and reiterated that international investigators need unfettered access to the crash site.

Blinken said the U.S. believes pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine still have SA-11 missiles, one of which was believed to have taken down the airliner.

Russia, meanwhile, seems unfazed by the impending sanctions. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Western sanctions might allow his country to "become more independent and more confident in our own strength."

Blinken said Obama also discussed other issues with his counterparts, including the Israeli-Gaza conflict, Iraq and Libya.