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US imposes sanctions on 7 Russian officials, 17 firms

The United States on Monday imposed new sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 firms linked to President Vladimir Putin's inner circle to punish the Kremlin for failing to ease tensions in Ukraine.

MANILA: The United States on Monday imposed new sanctions on seven Russian officials and 17 firms linked to President Vladimir Putin's inner circle to punish the Kremlin for failing to ease tensions in Ukraine.

Deepening the worst East-West showdown since the end of the Cold War, Washington is also tightening licensing requirements for certain hi-tech exports to Russia that could have a military use, the White House announced in a statement issued in Manila, where President Barack Obama is on a state visit.

"The United States has taken further action today in response to Russia's continued illegal intervention in Ukraine and provocative acts that undermine Ukraine's democracy and threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity," said White House spokesman Jay Carney in a statement.

Carney said Russia had done nothing to meet the terms of a deal agreed in Geneva with Ukraine, the European Union and the United States and designed to rein in pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"Russia's involvement in the recent violence in eastern Ukraine is indisputable," he said.

The sanctions follow up on previously announced measures targeting other members of Putin's political and inner circle and a Russian bank.

The measures are designed to build economic and political pressure on Putin, and to try to force a change of tactics in Ukraine.

They do not, however, specifically target sectors of the Russian economy like energy and mining.

The White House said those measures would only be imposed by the United States and its European allies if Russia actually invades Ukraine.

A senior US official said the sanctions would be rolled out in coordination with new European Union sanctions, and that existing measures were already having a "substantial impact" on the Russian economy.

Diplomatic sources in Brussels said that a further 15 officials would be subject to the same visa bans and asset freezes already imposed on 50 others.

The sources said the action would be taken because Moscow shows no sign of reversing course in Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that his country would respond to the sanctions.

"We are certain that this response will have a painful effect on Washington," he said.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Russia's "dangerous and inflammatory actions against Ukraine are illegal and illegitimate".

He said in a statement that Russia's economic growth forecasts had "dropped sharply, capital flight has accelerated and higher borrowing costs reflect declining confidence in the market outlook".

The companies sanctioned include Avia Group limited, the Severny Morsoy Bank, InvestCapital Bank, Transoil, Volga Resources Group, SMP Bank, Sobin Bank and Zest Leasing.

Prominent individuals sanctioned by Washington include Igor Sechin, who is considered one of Putin's most conservative lieutenants and his right hand man on energy issues and currently heads state oil company Rosneft.

Sechin is widely rumoured to have been a KGB resident spy in the 1980s. He almost never gives interviews but his former friends and colleagues have said that he worked as a translator and then served in the Soviet army in Africa.

The measures also hit Sergei Chemezov, CEO of Russian Technologies (Rostec) corporation, created in 2007 to consolidate management of Russian industry and which now controls or has stakes in hundreds of companies.

Chemezov has reportedly known Putin since the 1980s, when the two met in East Germany.

Another official in Putin's inner circle on the list is Vyacheslav Volodin, currently the first deputy chief of staff in the Kremlin. He was instrumental in Putin's campaign for a third presidential term.

Alexei Pushkov, another key official hit by the new sanctions, heads the international affairs committee in the Russian Duma lower house of parliament, representing the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak is also on the list. He was Putin's pointman on the Sochi Winter Olympic Games and now heads the efforts by Russia to invigorate the economy of the Crimean peninsula.

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