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Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine

The European Union tightened sanctions on Russia on Friday over its role in the Ukrainian conflict, restricting access to financing for top Russian banks, defense and energy firms and freezing the assets of senior politicians and rebel leaders.

The United States was set to follow suit with its own tougher sanctions later on Friday, heaping pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and sent troops to back pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

However, the drive for tougher EU sanctions faces growing opposition from a number of EU countries that fear retaliation from Russia, the bloc's biggest energy supplier.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the EU was "choosing the path of disrupting the peace process", and that Moscow would respond "calmly, appropriately and, most of all, from the need to protect our interests", the Interfax agency reported.

In a move to assuage critics, the EU has said it could lift some or even all of the sanctions within weeks - if Moscow abides by a fragile truce in Ukraine and respects a peace plan.

Publishing the latest sanctions list in the EU's Official Journal, EU governments said it was "appropriate to take further restrictive measures in response to Russia's actions destabilizing the situation in Ukraine".

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