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Europe prepares to punish Moscow

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By The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 9:06 p.m.
 

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — As Crimea grew more militarized and isolated on Tuesday, and hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis looked increasingly faint, European nations said they were preparing to punish Russia with sanctions within days.

European officials met in London to draw up penalties against Russia, likely to include asset freezes and travel bans, unless the country accepts a U.S. proposal to stop its expansion in Crimea and start discussions with Ukraine's new government. Until now, Western efforts to curb Russia's actions have focused on rhetoric and largely symbolic gestures, rather than measures that would cause meaningful pain in Moscow.

The European restrictions could mark a substantial escalation in a conflict that has pitted Russia against the West in a way not seen since the Cold War. But the Obama administration has refused to set a deadline for U.S. sanctions or indicate a specific Russian action that would trigger them. And analysts say that even tough sanctions are unlikely to force President Vladimir Putin to change course in Ukraine, given the depth of Russian interests there.

“For the Kremlin, and the wider elites that support it, the fate of Ukraine is a vital interest. They've tied Ukraine's future to their own,” said James Sherr, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House. “Any sanctions the EU is likely to come up with will not be sufficient to change that calculation.”

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Treasury Department is working on an escalating set of measures that allow the United States to “calibrate sanctions and other actions depending on the steps that Russia takes.”

Meanwhile, Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, said his country would have to rebuild its military “effectively from scratch.” The pro-Western leader said Ukraine has only 6,000 combat-ready infantry, compared with 200,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's eastern border.

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