The United States and its European allies stepped up their pressure on Russia to end its intervention in Ukraine by imposing the most comprehensive sanctions against Russian officials since the Cold War.

Acting in concert with Europe, the Obama administration on Monday froze the U.S. assets of seven Russian officials, including top advisers to President Vladimir Putin, for their support of Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine, while similar sanctions were imposed on four Ukrainian officials for instigating Sunday’s Crimean referendum.

Although the threat of sanctions has failed thus far to persuade Mr. Putin to drop support for Crimea’s secession and potential entry into the Russian Federation or to pull back from threatening military moves near Ukraine’s south and east President Barack Obama said failure to step back now would draw more severe consequences.

“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” Mr. Obama declared at the White House shortly after the penalties were announced. He noted that Vice President Joe Biden would be travelling to Europe late Monday to reassure Eastern European leaders of America’s commitment to them and that he himself would be going next week on a previously planned trip to make a similar point. Secretary of State John Kerry also is expected in Europe in the coming days.

“We’ll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,” he said. “The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy.”

Putin recognises Crimea

But administration critics said Mr. Obama’s actions were too little to convince Mr. Putin of anything. “I think Vladimir Putin must be encouraged by the absolute timidity,” said Republican Sen. John McCain, who had just returned from a weekend trip to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Shortly after Mr. Obama’s comments, Mr. Putin recognized Crimea as a “sovereign and independent country.”

Residents in Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula, voted overwhelmingly on Sunday in favour of the split, and Crimea’s parliament declared the region an independent state on Monday.

The United States, European Union and others say that splitting off Crimea from Ukraine violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law and has taken place under duress from the Russian military. Mr. Putin maintains that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination.

The U.S. announcement of sanctions came shortly after the European Union (EU) announced travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people the EU has linked to the unrest in Crimea. U.S. officials say there is some overlap between the U.S. list and that of the Europeans, which wasn’t immediately made public.

The sanctions freeze any assets the targeted individuals have under U.S. jurisdiction, make it illegal for Americans to do business with them and discourage international banks and financial institutions from having relationships with them, administration officials said. The officials, however, would or could not say if those targeted actually have assets in U.S. jurisdictions.

Japan imposes sanctions

Japan has announced a set of sanctions against Russia for its recognition of Crimea as an independent state.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement that Japan does not recognize the outcome of Crimea’s referendum to split from Ukraine, saying it violates the Ukrainian constitution.

Japan’s sanctions involve suspension of talks on relaxing visa requirements between Japan and Russia as well as planned talks on investment, space and military.

The moves are seen as modest compared to sanctions by the U.S. and European Union, which have frozen the assets of individuals linked to the unrest in Crimea or who support the region’s vote to secede from Ukraine.

Mr. Kishida also urged Russia to comply with international laws, withdraw the recognition of Crimea’s independence and not move further toward its annexation.

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