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U.S., EU Try To Turn Up The Heat On Russia

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The U.S. and European Union appear more unified against Russia this morning than at any point since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine. New sanctions targeting Russia's energy, financial and defense sectors were revealed yesterday in closely coordinated announcements by President Obama and European allies. This comes nearly two weeks after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Western nations have been trying to get Russia to stop supporting rebels there who are suspected of downing that plane and to cooperate with the investigation. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Obama stopped short of calling this a new Cold War, but says Russia has isolated itself and set back decades of progress.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It does not have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made.

KELEMEN: President Obama says Russia is still supporting militias in southeastern Ukraine, even after the shoot-down of the Malaysian plane.

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OBAMA: These Russian-backed separatists have continued to interfere in the crash investigation and to tamper with the evidence. They have continued to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft in the region. And because of their actions, scores of Ukrainian civilians continue to die needlessly every day.

KELEMEN: Now, he says, the U.S. and Europe will increase the costs for Moscow, expanding sanctions on Russian banks, energy companies and arms manufacturers.

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OBAMA: And because we're closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we're announcing today will have an even bigger bite.

KELEMEN: The announcement coincided with a visit to Washington by Ukraine's new Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

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PAVLO KLIMKIN: The world faces now the worst security situation since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

KELEMEN: Klimkin told the Atlantic Council that we don't need sanctions for the sake of sanctions, but there needs to be solidarity in how the world handles Russia and what he calls Moscow's undeclared war in Ukraine.

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KLIMKIN: Everyone here, everyone in the European Union should simply ask himself or herself - what kind of Russian behavior can we tolerate?

KELEMEN: The Ukrainian foreign minister says his country is still under attack with artillery firing from the Russian side of the border. The downing of the Malaysian airliner over an area controlled by separatists should have been a game changer, he says.

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KLIMKIN: We need to have an instrument - how to return to the status quo, how to return to the world where we have rules and where such rules are respected by anyone. And developments around Ukraine show that such mechanisms are not there.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Klimkin yesterday, also spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov's office says Russia is urging Kerry to use his influence with Ukraine to get to a cease-fire and talks with separatists in the southeast of the country. Kerry says the Ukrainians are ready to accept a cease-fire now.

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JOHN KERRY: But the Russians and their so-called volunteers are continuing to ship arms and funds and personnel across the border. We see this. There is clear evidence of it. And while the Russians have said that they want to de-escalate the conflict, their actions have not shown a shred of evidence that they really have a legitimate desire to end the violence and end the bloodshed.

KELEMEN: The U.S. says it's still trying to offer Russian President Vladimir Putin a diplomatic offramp. However, for months now, the Kremlin has shown no interest in that, constantly trying to lay blame for the crisis at the feet of Ukrainian politicians. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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