Russian President Vladimir Putin says for now, Russia will hold off on imposing sanctions on the United States in retaliation for U.S. sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
President Putin has signed into law the treaty formally making Crimea part of the Russian Federation, after it was approved by the parliament, on the same day Ukraine capped a landmark alliance with the European Union.
The announcement came as Russia\’s upper house of parliament voted unanimously Friday to incorporate the Crimea region into Russia. The lower house approved the treaty on Thursday, just four days after Crimean residents voted in a referendum to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. President Putin and Crimean leaders signed the treaty on Tuesday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is meeting Friday with Ukraine\’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, and acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Kyiv for discussions on resolving the crisis. On Thursday, Ban met with President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Ban said he urged the Russian leader to prevent "any unintended incident" in or near Ukraine that could aggravate tensions in the volatile region.
The European bloc on Friday announced it was expanding its list of Russians targeted with sanctions by 12, hours after the US president, Barack Obama, said his administration had imposed sanctions on "senior officials" in the Kremlin.
The EU signed the deal hours after announcing more targeted sanctions.
The EU Association Agreement is designed to give Ukraine\’s interim leadership under PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk economic and political support.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement
that the accord "recognises the aspirations of the people of Ukraine to live in a country governed by values, by democracy and the rule of law".
Meanwhile in Brussels, Ukraine\’s acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and the EU leaders signed a landmark agreement in defiance of Russia\’s wishes. Ukraine is formerly part of the Soviet Union.
"Signing [the] political part EU-Ukraine Association Agreement symbolises importance of relations (and) will to take it further," EU president Hermann said in a tweeted message.
The final deal, once signed, will cover issues as wide-ranging as economic integration, judicial reform and consumer rights to environmental protection.
President Barack Obama earlier announced the new round of punitive measures against 20 Russian lawmakers and senior government officials, in addition to 11 individuals already targeted.
Speaking at the White House
, Obama said Russia\’s threats to southern and eastern areas of Ukraine – which like Crimea have large Russian-speaking populations – posed a serious risk of escalating the crisis in the region.
Also among those top businessmen targeted are Putin-allies such as billionaires Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg plus a bank used by close associates.
EU leaders also slapped an asset freeze and travel ban on 12 more Russians and Ukrainians, bringing to 33 the number of figures targeted by the European bloc.
But on Friday, Putin said Russia will, for the time being, refrain from imposing sanctions on Americans in retaliation for punitive measures announced by the United States, Russian news agencies reported.
Meanwhile, Russia\’s Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said that Ukraine owes Russia $11bn, because the treaty under which Russia provides Ukraine with cheap gas in return for the Sevastopol naval base was "subject to denunciation".
In addition, he said that Ukraine owes Russia $3bn for a recent loan in the form of Russian purchase of Eurobonds, and that around $2bn is owed to Gazprom, Russia\’s state-controlled gas concern.