Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said Washington and its EU partners only planned on pursuing a path of diplomacy for the Ukrainian crisis. However, Russia's refusal to stop supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine was too serious to ignore and required immediate action.
"If Russia continues on its current path, the costs on Russia will continue to grow," Obama said.
Washington had, therefore, joined Brussels in approving fresh sanctions, the US leader said.
The combination of the two will have "greater impact on Russian economy than we have seen so far," Obama said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the EU imposed broader economic sanctions, including an arms embargo for future deals, and a ban on exports of some sensitive technologies. The 28-member bloc also approved a ban on the sale of bonds and equities by state-owned Russian banks in European capital markets.
"We're blocking the exports of specific goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector. We're expanding our sanctions to more Russian banks and defense companies. And we're formally suspending credit that encourages exports to Russia, and financing for economic development projects in Russia," Obama told reporters.
The downing of Malaysian flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine roughly two weeks ago prompted US and EU leaders to increase pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. They have accused Russia have of supplying the Ukrainian separatists, who are accused of shooting down the commercial airliner, with the anti-aircraft technology.
Obama: 'not a new Cold War'
When asked by a reporter if the increasing tensions between the West and Russia amounted to a "new Cold War," the US president said no.
It's not, "a cold war…[but rather] a specific issue related to Russia's unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path," Obama said.
The US leader emphasized that neither he nor his EU partners sought to help Ukraine fight against Russian-backed separatists.
"The main tool we have at this point is the impact [sanctions are] having on [Russia's] economy," Obama said, adding that the West wanted to "prevent [more] bloodshed in eastern Ukraine."
Merkel: sanctions 'inevitable'
For months the EU had settled for sanctions targeting specific individuals or entities. The body's president, Herman Van Rompuy, said he hoped the sectoral sanctions issued oon Tuesday would be a "strong warning" that would make Russia reconsider its current course.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the decision to impose sanctions was "inevitable" after European leaders repeatedly made clear to Moscow that its annexation of Crimea and financial and material support to Ukrainian separatists were unacceptable.
"It is now up to the leadership in Russia to decide whether they want to go the way of de-escalation and cooperation," Merkel said in a brief statement. "The EU sanctions can be reviewed but further steps are also possible."
Many EU countries have close economic ties with Russia, a reality that had made Brussels reluctant to come down too heavily on Moscow.
kms/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)