Putin recognizes Crimea as sovereign state

After a meeting lasting around three hours, the EU’s 28 foreign ministers quickly reached an agreement on the list of those to be sanctioned

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Ukraine's Crimea region as a “sovereign and independent country,” just hours after the strategic Black Sea peninsula declared it had broken away from Ukraine.

The moves triggered the toughest Western sanctions against Russia since the Cold War - with Washington and the European Union retaliating with asset freezes and travel bans and U.S. President Barack Obama vowing to “increase the cost” if the Kremlin does not back down.

Ukraine’s turmoil has become Europe's most severe security crisis in years and tensions have been high since Russian troops seized control of Crimea, which decided in a Sunday referendum to merge with Russia.

President Obama issued an executive order naming seven Russian government officials. The United States also said it identifies and targets the assets of other individuals who are not government officials but are supporting them.

Obama said he was moving to “increase the cost” to Russia, and he warned that more people could face financial punishment.

“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” Obama said in comments carried by the Associated Press.

Those targeted by Washington will have all U.S. assets frozen and no one in the United States can do business with them under Obama's order.

He added in a brief statement from the White House that he still believes there could be a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and that the sanctions can be calibrated based on whether Russia escalates or pulls back in its involvement.

The Treasury Department also is imposing sanctions on four Ukrainians, including former President Viktor Yanukovich and two Crimea-based separatist leaders.

EU bans

The U.S. announcement came shortly after the European Union announced travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP that the 21 would be targeted by travel bans and asset freezes.

The list of officials subject to European Union sanctions includes three senior Russian commanders, the prime minister of Crimea, the chairman of the Russian Duma's committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other senior officials.

The officials will be subject to EU visa bans and asset freezes.