Crimea crisis: Obama announces fresh US sanctions on Russia

US President announced sanctions as Russia banned nine officials in retaliation
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The US President Barack Obama has announced fresh sanctions against Russia over the annexation of crisis-hit Crimea.

In a speech to the White House this afternoon, Mr Obama said individuals they considered to be linked to the Russian government would be targeted for increased sanctions.

He said a bank supporting government officials, Bank Rossiya, would also be hit.

Russia's Foreign Ministry retaliated minutes later by announcing its own sanctions which it said would "hit America like a boomerang".

"We have repeatedly warned that sanctions are a double-edged instrument and would hit the United States like a boomerang," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "There must be no doubt - we will respond adequately to every hostile thrust."

It announced a list of nine American lawmakers and officials it said would be banned from travelling to Russia, including Senator John McCain, John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives and Robert Menendez, the head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr McCain responded by saying he was "proud" to have been sanctioned by President Vladimir Putin.

Officials targeted by the US sanctions included Mr Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov and deputy chief of staff Alexei Gromov, as well as the Speaker of the Duma - the lower house of Russia's Parliament - Sergei Naryshkin and Russian Railways chairman Vladimir Yakunin.

"We've been working closely with our European partners to develop more severe actions that could be taken if Russia continues to escalate the situation," Mr Obama said in his speech.

"I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions not just on individuals but on key sectors of the Russian economy."

The president said penalties were the consequence of "choices the Russian government has made, choices that have been rejected by the international community".

Tensions in the region remain high despite the release of a Ukrainian naval commander held by pro-Russian forces this morning.

Shots were fired but there were no casualties as the Ukrainian corvette Khmelnitsky was seized by pro-Russian forces in Sevastopol. Another ship, the Lutsk, was also surrounded by pro-Russian forces.

The unrest came as the Russian parliament's lower house has given its near-unanimous approval to the country's annexation of Crimea, ignoring threats from Western powers of more sanctions.

The Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted 445-1 Thursday to make Crimea a part of Russia following a quick discussion in which members assailed the Ukrainian authorities.

The vote came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. "I'm deeply concerned about the current situation," Ban said at the start of the talks.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel said this morning the EU is ready to increase "level two" sanctions against Russia to widen the list of those whose assets are being frozen and who are banned from travelling.

She also reiterated that if things worsen, the EU is prepared to move to "level three" measures, which would include economic sanctions.

"The European Council will make it clear today and tomorrow that with a further deterioration of the situation we are always prepared to take level 3 measures, and those will without a doubt include economic sanctions," she said.

Additional reporting by agencies