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U.S., EU slam Russia with more sanctions for stoking Ukraine unrest

July 29, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As the violence escalates in Ukraine and international frustrations mount over separatists’ control of the Malaysia airline crash site, the U.S. and Europe stepped up their response to Russia today in a bid to force Moscow to pull back its support of the rebels.

Hours after the European Union announced its greatly expanded sector-wide sanctions, the president deepened U.S. penalties against Russia and its economy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If Russia continues on its current path, the costs on Russia will continue to grow. And today is a reminder that the United States means what it says.

Now, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the sanctions that we have already imposed have made a weak Russian economy even weaker. Foreign investors already are increasingly staying away. Even before our actions today, nearly $100 billion in capital was expected to flee Russia.

Russia’s energy, financial and defense sectors are feeling the pain. Projections for Russian economic growth are down to near zero. The major sanctions we’re announcing today will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, including the cronies and companies that are supporting Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The E.U. mirrored U.S. sanctions against the banking, defense and energy sectors in Russia.

Yesterday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was defiant in advance of the E.U. move:

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): I can reassure you, we will overcome the difficulties that will arise in certain parts of our economy. Maybe we will become more self-reliant and more self-confident.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, today, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said Lavrov’s tough talk would hurt Moscow.

FRANS TIMMERMAN, Foreign Minister, The Netherlands (through interpreter): The consequence is that Russia chooses to isolate itself. And that’s not positive for Russia. My colleague Lavrov can say to the media, in that way, we will be more independent. But that is an independence that will lead to more poverty for the Russians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Dutch are also reeling from the crash nearly two weeks ago of the Malaysian airliner Flight 17 that originated in Amsterdam. More than 100 Dutch citizens out of almost 300 total died when a surface-to-air missile allegedly fired by pro-Russian separatists brought down the aircraft in Eastern Ukraine.

Investigators from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, said they were still working on getting to the crash site after being forced to turn back yesterday by heavy fighting in the area. The crash site is north of Donetsk, the rebel stronghold and regional capital of Ukraine’s east. It is now becoming a battleground, its leafy boulevards now empty, except for men with guns.

The shrouded, badly-mangled body of a man was loaded on to a stretcher outside a city center apartment block as shelling hit Donetsk. He was the husband of Lubov Skorikh. They had fled the ravaged city of Slavyansk for Donetsk.

LUBOV SKORIKH (through interpreter): I looked at him, and at first couldn’t understand who he was, but then I saw the shoes. They were his shoes. Do you understand, his shoes? My God, I have lived with him for 45 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A national security spokesman in Kiev said the battle for Donetsk was at hand.

ANDRIY LYSENKO, Spokesman, Ukraine National and Security Council (through interpreter): Ukrainian servicemen will recapture the city of Donetsk and will save infrastructure. But the primary goal is to save the lives of people who remain there, of civilians.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fighting over the past day has killed dozens of civilians, pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops. Yesterday, the rebels’ commander, Igor Strelkov, who was a former Russian military intelligence officer, gave his account of the pitched fighting.

IGOR STRELKOV, Military Commander, Donetsk People’s Republic (through interpreter): I will not estimate the outcome because not all operations are clear. I can say only this: The enemy is throwing everything they have into battle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Russian support for Strelkov and other separatists is one of a raft of serious issues now plaguing U.S.-Russia relations. And, today, a new and serious grievance emerged. The U.S. now contends Russia has routinely violated a Reagan-era weapons treaty signed with the Soviet Union and governing intermediate nuclear forces.

The 1987 pact governed, in part, the deployment and flight-testing of ground-launched cruise missiles, which the Russians are alleged to have violated.