(Reuters) – The European Union tightened sanctions on Russia on Friday over its role in the Ukrainian conflict, restricting access to financing for top Russian banks, defense and energy firms and freezing the assets of senior politicians and rebel leaders.
The United States was set to follow suit with its own tougher sanctions later on Friday, heaping pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and sent troops to back pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
However, the drive for tougher EU sanctions faces growing opposition from a number of EU countries that fear retaliation from Russia, the bloc’s biggest energy supplier.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the EU was “choosing the path of disrupting the peace process”, and that Moscow would respond “calmly, appropriately and, most of all, from the need to protect our interests”, the Interfax agency reported.
In a move to assuage critics, the EU has said it could lift some or even all of the sanctions within weeks – if Moscow abides by a fragile truce in Ukraine and respects a peace plan.
Publishing the latest sanctions list in the EU’s Official Journal, EU governments said it was “appropriate to take further restrictive measures in response to Russia’s actions destabilizing the situation in Ukraine”.
Russia has already banned all imports of food from the United States and all fruit and vegetables from Europe in response to previous Western sanctions.
Its response to the latest Western sanctions may include caps on used car imports and other consumer goods, a Kremlin official was quoted as saying on Thursday.
At the same time as stepping up sanctions, the EU will offer Russia more time to adjust to a European trade pact with Ukraine at Brussels talks on Friday, diplomats say, moving to ease tensions over an accord at the center of the Ukraine crisis.
The latest sanctions included asset freezes and travel bans on Igor Lebedev and other deputy speakers of the Russian lower house of parliament, on Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken nationalist politician, and on a number of leaders of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Also targeted was Sergei Chemezov, described as a close associate of Putin’s from his days as a KGB officer in communist East Germany. Chemezov is chairman of Rostec, a leading defense and industrial group that includes arms supplier Rosoboronexport and a firm that is planning to build energy plants in Crimea.
This brings the total of people under EU sanctions to 119, while 23 entities remain under asset freeze in the EU.
State-owned Rosoboronexport said it did not expect the sanctions to have an impact on its business.
The new sanctions bar EU firms from providing services such as drilling and well-testing for deep water oil exploration and production, Arctic oil exploration and production, or shale oil projects in Russia.