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US toughens sanctions against Russia

Russia’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a treaty Thursday to annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine, prompting tougher sanctions from the United States.

Russia responded with its own sanctions against a list of U.S. officials and lawmakers.

After Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had presented the treaty and urged lawmakers to accept the region as a part of the Russian Federation, the document was approved on a vote of 443 to 1.

Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, will hold a similar vote Friday, completing ratification of a treaty that was signed by President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Speaking “on behalf” of Putin, Lavrov had told the State Duma that folding Crimea into Russia was needed to protect ethnic Russians there.

“I am certain that passing the document will become a turning point in the destiny of multi-ethnic nations of Crimea and Russia, who are related with close ties of the historical unity,” Lavrov said.

Russia’s moves to annex Crimea have turned a confrontation with Europe and the United States into the biggest crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.

Approval of the treaty in the State Duma was in no doubt as Russia has stood defiant despite Western leaders denouncing Moscow’s actions as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and a breach of international law.

European Union leaders said Thursday they will sign a political association agreement with Ukraine and add 12 more people to the list of individuals targeted for sanctions.

EU member states also are threatening possible tougher targeted measures if Russia escalates the situation in Ukraine, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters.

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