White House Widens Scope Of Russian Sanctions To Finance And Defense

The Obama administration is slapping stronger sanctions on Russia. The sanctions — which target key sectors of the Russian economy, including finance and defense — come as a response to Moscow's alleged involvement in Ukraine. The move comes on the same day that the European Union announced sanctions of its own.

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The Obama administration is slapping another round of sanctions on Russia, targeting key sectors of Russia's economy. The sanctions stem from growing concerns about Russia's interference in Ukraine. And the move by the U.S. comes just hours after the European Union agreed to its own sanctions against Russia. NPR's Jackie Northam has the details.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: This round of U.S. sanctions comes as the Obama administration has been turning up heat on Russia. It's accused Moscow of amassing troops along the border with Ukraine, funneling weapons and personnel across the border to help backup pro-Russian separatists in their fight against Ukrainian government troops. It's also accused Russia of violating a major arms control treaty. These sanctions are intended to hit Moscow where it hurts, its economy, in the energy, arms and finance sectors. Obama says the new sanctions will make a weak economy even weaker.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Foreign investors, already, are increasingly staying away. Even before our actions today, nearly $100 billion in capital was expected to flee Russia. Russia's energy, financial and defense sectors are feeling the pain. Projections for Russian economic growth are down to near zero.

NORTHAM: The Obama administration has been pushing Europe to take tougher action against President Vladimir Putin and Russia's financial elite. And today, it got its wish. The European Union backed up U.S. actions with equally strong sanctions intended to cut deep into Russia's economy. The 28-member bloc agreed to restrict access to European financial markets for Russia's state-owned banks and a ban on sensitive technologies and equipment, which would include the oil sector but exclude natural gas, a vital energy source for Europe. It will impose a ban on all new weapons sales. That means France can go ahead with an earlier deal to provide Russia with two warships. The sanctions are expected to be implemented Thursday. Angela Stent, the director of Georgetown University's Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, says the depth and extent of this round of sanctions is clearly a turning point for the EU.

ANGELA STENT: This is symbolic. And I think it's also trying to show Putin that Europe is, in fact, united over resisting what is happening in eastern Ukraine so that he can't keep trying to divide the Europeans, which he's been rather successful at doing up until now.

NORTHAM: Stent says up until now, the EU has been reluctant to impose hard-hitting sanctions on Moscow. Many economies in Europe have strong economic ties to Russia, especially Germany, which relies on Russian oil and natural gas. Stent says that attitude began to change with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Moscow's support for separatists in East Ukraine, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel says is unacceptable. Merkel says sanctions are unavoidable. Stent says it's clear Merkel has grown frustrated with Putin.

STENT: She's been talking to Putin on a very regular basis for months now and really trying to engage Russia to give it a way of standing down, if you like. And it feels all the time that it's been promised things that have not been implemented.

NORTHAM: But Russians' ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, says no amount of sanctions will damage the Russian economy. He says it's been through challenges like this before and has survived.

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VLADIMIR CHIZHOV: Overall, the sanctions route leads nowhere. It's a dead-end. And the collateral damage to EU's own economy would be comparable to any damage induced on the Russian economy.

NORTHAM: The European Union says it's ready to reverse it's decision and reengage with Russia when it starts to demonstrate it's willing to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis. In the meantime, the EU will review the sanctions in three months' time. Jackie Northam. NPR News, Washington.

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