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Spurred to action by the downing of the Malaysian airliner, the European Union approved dramatically tougher economic sanctions Tuesday against Russia, including an arms embargo and restrictions on state-owned banks. President Barack Obama swiftly followed with an expansion of U.S. penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy.
The coordinated sanctions were aimed at increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine whom the West blames for taking down the passenger jet nearly two weeks ago. Obama and U.S. allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.
"Today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress," Obama said. "It does not have to be this way. This a choice Russia and President Putin has made."
Tuesday's announcements followed an intense lobbying effort from Obama aimed at getting European leaders to toughen their penalties on Russia and match earlier U.S. actions. Europe has a far stronger economic relationship with Russian than the U.S., but EU leaders have been reluctant to impose harsh penalties in part out of concern about a negative impact on their own economies.
However, Europe's calculus shifted sharply after a surface-to-air missile brought down the passenger jet, killing nearly 300 people including more than 200 Europeans. Obama and his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Italy finalized plans to announce the broader sanctions Monday in an unusual joint video conference.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the sanctions sent a "strong warning" that Russia's destabilization of Ukraine cannot be tolerated.
"When the violence created spirals out of control and leads to the killing of almost 300 innocent civilians in their flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia, the situation requires urgent and determined response," the two top EU officials said in a statement.
Obama, responding to a question after his announcement at the White House, said, "No, it's not a new cold war."
Still, U.S. officials say sanctions already rippling through Russia are having a detrimental impact on the country's economy. Russia's growth projections have been downgraded, and Obama said $100 billion in capital was already expected to flee Russia even before Tuesday's joint U.S.-European announcements.
The sanctions, Obama said, "have made a weak Russian economy even weaker."
Yet it remains uncertain whether the tougher penalties will have any impact on Russia's actions in Ukraine — nor was it clear what other actions the U.S. and Europe were willing to take if the situations remains unchanged. U.S. officials said they believe economic pressure remains their most effective tool, and Obama reiterated his opposition to sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.
The new European penalties include an arms embargo on Moscow and a ban on the unapproved sale to the Russians of technology that has dual military and civilian uses or is particularly sensitive, such as advanced equipment used in deep-sea and Arctic oil drilling.
To restrict Russia's access to Europe's money markets, EU citizens and banks will be barred from purchasing certain bonds or stocks issued by state-owned Russian banks, according to EU officials.
The specific targets of the EU actions will be published Thursday, when they will take effect.
U.S. officials said they expected Europe's list of targets to include some of the same energy companies, defense entities and financial institutions the Obama administration hit with sanctions the day before the Malaysian airliner was shot out of the sky. The White House has been pressing Europe in recent days to bring its penalties in line with the U.S., both to increase the economic pressure on Moscow and present a united Western front.
As part of that effort, Obama also announced an expansion of the U.S. sanctions on Russian economic sectors. Among the targets were three major Russian banks: the Bank of Moscow, Russian Agricultural Bank and VTB Bank, Russia's second largest bank.
Administration officials said 30 percent of the Russian banking sector's assets were now targeted by U.S. sanctions. The main function of the sanctions is to curtail the financial institutions' ability to access U.S. debt markets, not to block individual users from using their accounts or credit cards, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sanctions by name.
Chris Weafer, an analyst at the investment firm Macro Advisory, said the banking sanctions would have the most immediate impact on Russia and could trickle down to individuals.
"It will certainly tighten the local debt market," he said. "It will make it very difficult for small enterprises and individuals to access debt."
The U.S. also targeted the St. Petersburg-based United Shipbuilding Corporation, a defense technologies firm, and was blocking future technology sales to Russia's oil industry.Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:50:38 -0700
SWAT team snipers deployed to a rooftop in a Hayward neighborhood Tuesday afternoon while other officers and bomb squad technicians took cover nearby and residents were evacuated in a tense standoff triggered by a failed eviction attempt.
Hayward police Sgt. Ken Forkus said Alameda County sheriff's deputies tried to serve an eviction notice in the 2700 block of Gainesville Avenue at 9:58 a.m.
The attempt apparently failed and a SWAT team was called to the scene.
Meanwhile, authorities received information that there may be a cache of weapons and explosives inside the home. Bomb technicians were also called to the scene.
As a precaution, nearby homes were evacuated.
No other details were immediately available.Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:36:39 -0700
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an agreement to extend the Oakland A's lease at the O.co Coliseum for another 10 years.
The vote is the next-to-last step in an often-contentious 14-month-long negotiating process aimed at keeping the baseball team in Oakland.
The final step is a vote by the board of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority on Aug. 6.
The JPA's attorney, Jon Streeter, said he expects the board to approve the agreement because it voted to approve an earlier version of the lease on July 3.
The agreement approved by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Tuesday includes changes that the Oakland City Council made two weeks ago and were approved by the A's last week.
Streeter said he was happy with the original agreement but the changes made by the City Council were "a net improvement" that better protects the interests of the city and the county.
The lease agreement includes an escape clause that allows the A's to leave the Coliseum after the 2018 Major League Baseball season.
However, the team would still have to pay rent at the Coliseum until the end of the agreement in 2024 unless it moved to another site in Oakland.
The agreement also allows the city to force the A's out of the Coliseum if a deal to develop the site and build a new football-only stadium there for the Oakland Raiders materializes.
The most significant amendment made by the City Council and approved by the A's and the Board of Supervisors would free the city of Oakland and Alameda County from liability if the Raiders violate the terms of their lease at the Coliseum.
Describing the lengthy negotiating process, Supervisor Wilma Chan said it has "gone through more twists and turns than any road anyone has ever seen."Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:53:27 -0700 News Source: MedleyStory More Local News Stories