BERLIN — The European Union agreed Tuesday to expand a list of Russian entities and individuals subject to asset freezes and travel bans and threatened to target vast sectors of the Russian economy if Moscow does not act swiftly to rein in rebels believed to have shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine.
But E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Brussels stopped well short of immediately carrying out vows in some countries to jump quickly to “phase three sanctions” that could cripple the Russian economy. Rather, they agreed to prepare by Thursday a list of possible options, including a potential arms embargo, limits on dual-technology sales and, more important, measures targeting the energy and financial sectors. Such measures could be imposed later only if Russia does not force pro-Moscow separatists to grant unfettered access to the crash site and fulfill its pledge to cooperate with an international inquiry.
The ministers agreed to draft a new set of names by Thursday to be added to the 63 individuals and entities already targeted by the Europeans for Russian actions in Ukraine. Although the United States has sanctioned multiple officials in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, as well as major Russian companies, Europe has avoided taking such a confrontational stance. The action Tuesday suggested that the Europeans are preparing to follow suit and hit those close to Putin harder.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC that the new list will target Putin “cronies.” He said the process for establishing broader-based sanctions is “moving forward at pace.”
“We’ve increased the number of E.U. members who are beginning to think like us,” he said, referring to Britain’s hard-line stance on holding Russia accountable.
Tuesday’s meeting was characterized by “deep sorrow, but also increasing anger,” tweeted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Nevertheless, even the official threat of sectoral sanctions — and a pledge to draft a list of options this week — goes further than the Europeans have ever been willing to go.
Igor Sutyagin, a defense analyst with the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said a ban on the sale of European weapons components would strike a serious blow to the Russian military’s ability to modernize its arsenal.
“Not that many actual arms are sold from Europe to Russia, but there are lots of components for Russian-made systems,” he said. “They rely on Western machinery.”
But Sutyagin said any outright ban also could do serious damage to the European defense industry. The French, for instance, are preparing to deliver two warships to the Russians — one this year and one next year. A halt to the sale could be devastating for the French shipyard at Saint-Nazaire.
The shipyard has 2,500 workers, Sutyagin said. “There are no other orders, so if this one’s canceled, you’d just have to shut it down,” he said.
France has strongly resisted pulling out of the $1.7 billion sale. On Monday, President François Hollande said Paris will not terminate the sale of the first craft, which has been paid for, but he left open the option of canceling the second ship if Russia does not change course.
Citing mounting evidence, Kiev and Washington have built a case that a Russian-made missile fired by pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine brought down the Boeing 777 airliner, killing all 298 people aboard, nearly two-thirds of them Dutch citizens. Going into the meeting, European diplomats were divided over the strength of possible sanctions, and several nations — especially those with strong economic ties to Russia — remained cautious. But others signaled a new willingness to press Moscow.
In Washington, President Obama visited the Dutch Embassy to sign a condolence book Tuesday morning. “Obviously we are all heartbroken,” he told reporters. He said he wanted to “express our solidarity with the people of the Netherlands,” adding that “we will work with them to make sure their loved ones are recovered” and that justice is done.
In a letter to Obama, three senior Democratic senators urged him to use his executive powers to impose “significant” additional penalties on Russia, including “immediate broad sanctions” to prevent Russia from arming or training Ukrainian separatists.
The letter, from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.), who respectively chair the Intelligence, Armed Services and Foreign Relations panels, urged consideration of broader sanctions on the Russian economy, including the energy and financial sectors, and designation of the separatists’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine as a foreign terrorist organization.
“We understand and strongly support your efforts to coordinate the imposition of sanctions with our key European allies,” the Democratic senators wrote. “However, the United States must not limit its own national security strategy when swift action will help fulfill our strategic objectives, support an independent Ukraine and counter malignant Russian interference.”
Witte reported from London. Karen DeYoung in Washington and Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.