The EU reached outline agreement late on Friday to impose the first economic sanctions on Russia – targeting its security services – over its role in Ukraine.
It scaled back possible sanctions to exclude technology for the crucial gas sector.
Russia’s foreign ministry yesterday accused the United States – which has already imposed its own sanctions – of contributing to the conflict in Ukraine through its support for the pro-western government in Kiev.
Brussels imposed travel bans and asset freezes on the chiefs of the FSB security service – the KGB’s successor – and the SVR foreign intelligence service, along with several top Russian officials.
The EU said those targeted had helped shape Russian policy that threatens Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity.
“The additional sanction list is direct evidence the EU countries have set a course for fully scaling down co-operation with Russia over the issues of international and regional security,” the foreign ministry said. “[This] includes the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, organised crime and other new challenges and dangers.
“We are sure such decisions will be accepted with enthusiasm by global terrorists.”
The EU had already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russian officials over Russia’s annexation in March of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists battling Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
The decision to move to wider economic sanctions came after last week’s downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, Flight MH17, killing 298 people, in an area of east Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists.
The US and other western nations accuse the separatists of downing the plane with a surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia.
The separatists deny shooting down the plane and Russia denies providing the weapons.
Russia’s foreign ministry said Washington shared responsibility for the crisis. It said: “The US continues to push Kiev into the forceful repression of [Ukraine’s] Russian-speaking population’s discontent.
“There is one conclusion – the Obama administration has some responsibility both for the internal conflict in Ukraine and its severe consequences.”
The statement came in response to a White House accusation that Russian president Vladimir Putin was “culpable” in the downing of the plane.
Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke strongly in favour of the new EU sanctions, despite Europe’s largest economy having strong trading links with Russia.
“After the death of 300 innocent people in the MH17 crash and the disrespectful roaming around the crash site of marauding soldiers, the behaviour of Russia leaves us no other choice,” he said.
“We remain true to our course: cleverly calibrated and mutually agreed measures to raise the pressure and towards a willingness to have serious talks with Russia,” he added.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said he would hold talks in the Netherlands on Wednesday with Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte on how to secure full access to the crash site.
“This will require the co-operation of those in control of the crash site and the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said.
The separatists remain in control of the area where the plane came down. A total of 193 Dutch nationals and 43 Malaysians were among the victims aboard MH17.