The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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March 22, 2014

Ukraine looks to West for support

By Griff Witte and Will Englund

The Washington Post

MOSCOW — Deep-booming fireworks rent the sky in Moscow and in Crimea on Friday night to celebrate the territorial expansion of Russia at Ukraine's expense.

President Vladimir Putin, defiant in the face of growing Western pressure, signed a treaty of accession moments after it was ratified by the upper house of parliament earlier in the day. The deal gives the Crimean peninsula to Russia — but it has pushed a diminished Ukraine further toward the West.

In Brussels, Ukraine's leaders signed an agreement committing to closer ties with the European Union and said they had been promised more than $1 billion in additional economic aid. Russia, meanwhile, is now the target of expanded sanctions.

The E.U., following on the heels of the United States, added a dozen more names Friday to its list of Russian officials subject to visa and financial restrictions. But efforts by eastern members of the E.U. to pursue much tougher measures were rebuffed by leaders of bigger countries worried about the consequences for their own economies.

In Moscow, politicians joked about the sanctions. But the measures were beginning to show some bite, and several hundred thousand Russians could be feeling their effect.

Mastercard and Visa stopped handling transactions for Bank Rossiya, which was placed on the American sanctions list Thursday by President Barack Obama, and for the much smaller SMP Bank, which is owned by two brothers, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who are also on the U.S. list. They are old friends of Putin and have grown rich since he came to power. Several other small banks that rely on the two bigger ones to handle credit card transactions also had their credit card business blocked.

"It will not have a huge effect," said Anton Soroko, a bank analyst here. Bank Rossiya, the country's 15th largest bank, has about 470,000 individual clients, most of whom have direct deposit for their salaries and use their cards only to withdraw cash from ATMs — a procedure that is still possible, according to Natalia Romanova, editor of a website called banki.ru.

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