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New volunteers of Ukrainian self-defence battalion Azov take their oath of allegiance to their country during a ceremony in Kiev on July 16, 2014. The volunteers would shortly head to eastern Ukraine. (VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)
New volunteers of Ukrainian self-defence battalion Azov take their oath of allegiance to their country during a ceremony in Kiev on July 16, 2014. The volunteers would shortly head to eastern Ukraine. (VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)

U.S. boosts Russian sanctions as violence in Ukraine wages on Add to ...

The United States on Wednesday imposed its most wide-ranging sanctions yet on Russia’s economy, including Gazprombank and the Rosneft Oil Co, and other major banks and energy and defense companies.

Washington has steadily escalated its financial sanctions on Russia over what it views as Moscow’s interference in its neighbor Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimea region.

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The targeted companies also include Russia’s second-largest gas producer, Novatek, Vnesheconombank, or VEB, a state-owned bank that acts as payment agent for the Russian government, and eight arms firms.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which posted the sanctions on its website, said the measures effectively closed medium- and long-term dollar funding to the two banks and energy companies. But the sanctions did not freeze these four companies’ assets.

The sanctions stopped short of targeting Russia’s Gazprom , the world’s largest natural gas producer and provider of much of Europe’s energy supplies. Gazprombank is 36 percent-owned by Gazprom.

The new measures were announced on the same day that European Union leaders met in Brussels and agreed to expand their own sanctions on Russia.

The new U.S. sanctions also include Feodosiya Enterprises, a shipping facility in Crimea, and senior Russian officials, several of whom had already been targeted by the European Union.

The affected senior officials included the deputy head of the State Duma, or parliament, the minister of the Crimea, a commander of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and a Ukrainian separatist leader.

“Russia has continued to destabilize Ukraine and provide support for the separatists, despite its statements to the contrary,” Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement announcing the new sanctions.

VIOLENCE CONTINUES

Fighting raged in Ukraine’s east on Wednesday when separatists tried to break through the lines of government forces near the border with Russia and a tentative step toward agreeing conditions for a ceasefire failed.

Eleven more Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the space of 24 hours while hundreds of bodies of rebels were found in shallow graves in a former separatist stronghold, the army said.

Fighting has escalated sharply since Friday with the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane and the deaths of civilians in air and artillery attacks on residential areas on both sides of the border, which Russia and Ukraine have blamed on each other.

New casualty figures would appear to bring to nearly 270 the number of Ukrainian servicemen killed since the government launched an “anti-terrorist” operation in April to crush the rebels. Hundreds of civilians and rebels have also been killed.

RUNNING OUT OF PATIENCE

President Barack Obama in recent weeks has repeatedly threatened new sanctions, and appears to have run out of patience as fighting continued to rage in eastern Ukraine.

“There are some clear steps that we’ve asked Russia to take that they haven’t taken. And that is what has elevated the risk that Russia faces right now as it relates to additional economic costs that could be imposed by the international community,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters earlier on Wednesday.

But the new sanctions were unlikely to please Republican lawmakers, many of whom have been calling for the imposition of sanctions on entire Russian industries, rather than specific companies, as the best way to control Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Washington said on Wednesday up to 12,000 Russian forces were back on the border with Ukraine and that weaponry was crossing over to pro-Russian separatists.

“These are combat forces,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters.

The increase in the Russian presence occurred several weeks after Moscow had drawn down its forces in the area to about 1,000 troops.

Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, had no immediate comment. Morgan Stanley, which is selling the majority of its global physical oil trading operations to Rosneft, declined to comment.

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