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Moscow answers U.S., European sanctions with ban on food imports for a year

August 7, 2014 at 6:14 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Russia formally banned imports of agricultural products from the U.S. and Europe today, even as NATO sounded new warnings about Moscow’s military moves.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

MARGARET WARNER: Foreign foods that have lined the shelves of Russia’s grocery stores will be disappearing. For a year, effective immediately, imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and dairy are banned from the U.S., European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway.

All those countries have imposed sanctions penalizing Russia for backing rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that Moscow is answering in kind.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, Prime Minister, Russia (through interpreter ): All the measures have a solely retaliatory character. We didn’t want such a development of events. We sincerely hope that our partners’ economic pragmatism will prevail over petty political reasons, and they will think, and not try to frighten and limit Russia.

MARGARET WARNER: Notwithstanding the Kremlin’s defiance, President Obama argues, Russia is hurting. He spoke at a Washington news conference last night.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy. The economy has ground to a halt. Somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion of capital flight has taken place.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s more, U.S. officials said today, Russia is, in effect, imposing sanctions on its own people, by banning the main sources of imports that account for one-quarter of food consumption in Russia and a much higher percentage in the major cities.

Today, a top U.S. Treasury official left open the possibility of more U.S. sanctions if Russia doesn’t rethink its actions toward Ukraine. But there’s little sign of that. Instead, NATO now estimates 20,000 Russian troops have massed near the border and says they could be getting ready to invade, under the guise of a humanitarian mission.

Just this week, in fact, Russia called a session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a new warning today, as he met with Ukrainian leaders in Kiev.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, Secretary-General, NATO: I call on Russia to step back from the brink, step back from the border. Do not use peacekeeping as an excuse for war-making.

MARGARET WARNER: Poland’s prime minister issued a similar warning yesterday, saying the threat of direct Russian intervention in Ukraine is certainly greater than it was a few days ago.

Meanwhile, inside Ukraine, government forces have stepped up pressure on the rebels, with intensive new shelling in their stronghold city of Donetsk. Amid the fighting, an Eastern Ukrainian native replaced a Russian national, Alexander Borodai, as leader of the separatists there.