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US stiffens sanctions against Russia over Ukraine: US officials

The United States on Wednesday significantly strengthened economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, targeting defense, financial and energy firms.

The US Treasury said that the measures, Washington’s most punitive economic blow so far against the Russian economy, included sanctions against the giant oil firm Rosneft and Gazprombank.

The move came after European leaders earlier edged toward strengthening their own sanctions against Moscow, though the EU measures appeared to be less robust than those unveiled by the United States.

Washington’s move followed weeks of warnings that Russia had failed to adhere to Western demands to use its influence to convince separatists in eastern Ukraine to stand down and to prevent the flow of weapons and materiel across the border.

The US list of sanctions also included measures against the self-styled breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

The new sanctions were imposed as more than three months of fighting in Ukraine that has already claimed more than 600 lives threatened to spill into all-out civil war with potential repercussions for neighboring European nations.

Nearly 50 civilians have been killed since the weekend in artillery and air strikes across the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk that both sides blame on each other.

Washington had previously imposed sanctions against the leadership of some key Russian firms and enterprises and what it said were “cronies” around Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as key leaders of the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.