The US and EU appear set to impose new sanctions targeting Russia's financial, defense and energy sectors in response to the unrest in Ukraine. Negotiations will continue in Brussels on Tuesday.
In a rare five-way teleconference on Monday evening, the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and the US discussed the imposition of new sanctions against Russia.
This followed talks in Brussels, where EU diplomats agreed on a new list of people and entities close to President Vladimir Putin who could face travel bans and asset freezes. This would be in addition to 87 people and 20 organizations already subject to similar EU sanctions.
The diplomats were scheduled to try to forge agreements on a broader package of economic sanctions against Moscow on Tuesday, provided they could get all 28 EU members to agree.
Officials in Washington had so far pursued the toughest line against Moscow regarding Ukraine, but European willingness to tackle key trade partner Russia has grown since the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Barack Obama's advisers told reporters in Washington that further sanctions were necessary.
"It's precisely because we've not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it's absolutely essential to take additional measures, and that's what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week," said Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken.
Future contracts, gas sector may be safe
Details of further European sanctions were scheduled to be published in full on Wednesday. In a letter to European leaders last week, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the proposed sanctions package "should have a strong impact on Russia's economy while keeping a moderate effect on EU economies."
Van Rompuy spoke of an "emerging consensus" on some key principles, such as only targeting future contracts. This would allow existing deals, like the French sale to Moscow of two "Mistral" class warships or the hundreds of existing British delivery permits, to go ahead.
Unconfirmed reports out of Brussels on Monday also suggested that EU energy sector sanctions might focus only on oil deliveries, rather than gas. By volume, Germany is Russia's largest natural gas customer, with the imports crucial for the country's industrial sector.
Kyiv: rocket shrapnel downed plane
The Netherlands is leading the investigation into the crash of MH17, with British-based aviation officials analyzing the "black box" flight recorders from the Boeing 777.
Nevertheless, it was the government in Kyiv which on Monday released the first, unconfirmed, information apparently found in the black box records. According to Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, investigators "indicated that data from flight recorders show that the reason for the destruction and crash of the plane was massive explosive decompression arising from multiple shrapnel perforations from a rocket explosion."
The investigation's coordinators in the Netherlands and the aviation specialists in Farnborough in England both declined to comment on the statements from Kyiv, with the Dutch team saying they were "waiting to get a more complete idea of what happened."
A shoot-down has long been considered the most likely scenario for the MH17 crash. The massive debris field, indicating the plane broke apart mid-air, was among the more obvious indications. The US and Ukraine have said that separatists mistakenly shot down the plane using rockets supplied by Russia, but the Kremlin has countered that Ukraine's military might be responsible.
Both sides in Ukraine's conflict are believed to have the firepower, in theory, to have shot down the flight from Amsterdam Schipol to Kuala Lumpur.
msh/lw (AP, dpa, Reuters)