BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday took the next step towards imposing tougher sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis by agreeing the legal basis for widening its list of targets.

The 28 EU leaders agreed to additional steps, including punishing Russian firms, at a summit on Wednesday after Moscow failed to halt its alleged support for pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine. The Russian foreign ministry accused the EU of submitting to “blackmail from the American administration” and said Brussels should have “its own voice”. The sanctions are the first direct swipes at the Russian economy’s finance, military and energy sectors, further escalating the worst standoff between the Kremlin and the West since the Cold War. They target both individuals and firms providing material or financial support to efforts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as to those responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. A statement Friday said officials had agreed the legal basis for such action, clearing the way to draw up a list of new sanction targets by the end of July. The EU has so far hit 72 Ukraine and Russian figures with travel bans and asset freezes but divisions over how far to go given some member states’ close economic ties with Russia has left Brussels trailing Washington which wants the bloc to do much more.–AFP