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U.S., EU strengthen sanctions against Russia over Ukraine conflict

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 7:03 p.m.

The United States on Wednesday increased sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, a move echoed by European leaders.

The administration took the measures against a series of banks, energy and defense companies as European leaders, meeting in Brussels, discussed sanctions against a new list of individuals and a handful of companies tied to Russia's annexation in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, as well as restrictions on European financing for Russian development projects.

“We have repeatedly made clear that Russia must halt the flow of fighters and weapons across the border into Ukraine,” President Obama said during an appearance in the White House briefing room to announce the measures.

Russia and its eastern Ukrainian allies, he said, must release hostages being held in Ukraine and agree to a cease-fire, internationally mediated talks with the Ukrainian government and international monitors on the border.

The new sanctions fall somewhat short of action against entire sectors of the Russian economy, which Obama said would be imposed if Russia does not halt military support to separatists in eastern Ukraine and withdraw its troops from the border.

The sanctions target equity financing and debt financing with maturity of more than 90 days for two Russian banks — Gazprombank, the banking arm of Russia's largest energy company, and state-owned VEB — and prohibited new debt from U.S. institutions with more than 90 days maturity for OAE Novatek, Russia largest independent natural gas producer, and Rosneft, the largest petroleum company.

European Union leaders, too, ordered tougher sanctions against Russia, asking the European Investment Bank to sign no new financing agreements with Moscow.

The leaders agreed to act together to suspend financing of the new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development operations in Russia.

Meanwhile, insurgents bade tearful farewells as they loaded their families onto Russia-bound buses and began hunkering down for what could be the next phase in Ukraine's conflict: bloody urban warfare.

Insurgents in Donetsk appeared be bracing for a bitter fight as they shipped their relatives out of the city.

One fighter, who declined to give his name, told The Associated Press that not having his wife and young daughter with him would free him to concentrate on the battles ahead.

“It is easier for us this way. It is easier to fight. Your soul is not ripped into two, because when they're here, you think about war and about your family — if they are OK or not,” he said.

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