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EU Announces It Will Impose Sanctions Against Ukraine

<p>The European Union announced targeted sanctions against Ukraine on Thursday as it scrambled to prevent a civil war from unfolding on its doorstep.</p>

The European Union, scrambling to prevent a civil war from unfolding on its doorstep, announced targeted sanctions against Ukraine on Thursday.

The 28-country bloc's foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels in which they unanimously voted to impose sanctions, including visa bans on some officials and asset freezes.

"The European Union is appalled and deeply dismayed by the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. No circumstances can justify the repression we are currently witnessing," the E.U. ministers said in a statement.

The ministers also called on both side in the Ukraine crisis to engage in dialogue, and offered to provide assistant that would help de-escalate the situation.

A diplomat told the Associated Press that the list of names of Ukrainian officials to be targeted by sanctions had yet to be established.

The foreign ministers were under pressure to act quickly – not only to reduce the bloodshed on the E.U.'s eastern border, but also to avoid losing a wider power struggle against Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

However, one of the E.U. ministers - Poland’s Radosław Sikorski - was busy getting an all-too-vivid picture of the crisis early Thursday as he traveled through the fiery carnage of Kiev for a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

“Black smoke, detonations and gunfire around presidential palace,” Sikorski posted on Twitter amid street clashes which left dozens dead. “Meeting moved to another location. Officials panicky.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk told his parliament Wednesday that Ukraine was teetering towards civil war and that the country and its neighbors must prepare for a wave of refugees.

The foreign ministers from France, Germany and Poland said they would continue talks with Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders in Kiev through the night Thursday, a Polish foreign ministry spokesman said.

As the other E.U. ministers traveled to the special summit in Brussels, Britain condemned the latest clashes as “unacceptable” and summoned Ukraine’s ambassador in London.

“The Ukrainian president is putting himself at odds with reasonable opinion all across the world,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters, urging Yanukovich to implement “immediate and far-reaching change.”

With the clock ticking on a response, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said Yanukovich had agreed to allow a Putin envoy, Dmitry Peskov, to travel to Kiev and mediate negotiations with opposition groups, according to Reuters.

That would be a snub to German leader Angela Merkel, who earlier urged Yanukovich in a telephone call to accept an E.U. offer to mediate.

"Playing for time will fuel the conflict further and contains unforeseeable risks," said a statement from Merkel's spokesman, according to Reuters.

The chasm between Europe and Russia was one of the key flashpoints behind the Kiev protests, which began in November after Yanukovich abandoned a trade deal with the E.U. in favor of a customs union with Russia that was backed by a generous economic bailout.

Putin has already fired a warning shot across Europe, warning the E.U. not to intervene in Ukraine. "The more intermediaries there are, the more problems there are," the Russian president said on Jan. 29. "I am not sure Ukraine needs intermediaries."

“I can only imagine what the reaction would be if in the heat of the crisis in Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister came to an anti-European rally and began urging people to do something,” Putin said.

Putin’s willingness to use his financial muscle has already been demonstrated by the Sochi Olympics, whose estimated $50 billion price tag makes it the most expensive Games in history.

Still struggling with its own economic woes, the E.U. must find a way of turning Ukraine towards Europe without being forced to bail out another failing economy.

“If the protesters were to succeed in forcing Yanukovych out then the existing Russia-Ukraine deal would likely be abandoned,” wrote Chris Weafer, a Moscow-based economic analyst for Macro-Advisory. “The E.U .would be forced into re-opening bailout talks and would be expected, by the new Kiev government, to write a large rescue check.”

Neither is the E.U. ready to promise Ukraine the allure of membership of its financial bloc. Member states are already divided over the accession of membership candidates such as Turkey.

Nor can Europe easily stand aside the United States. President Barack Obama condemned the violence Wednesday, but tensions remain after Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was taped saying "F--- the EU" in an intercepted telephone call discussing Washington’s view on how to settle the crisis.

Such language was “unacceptable,” said a bruised Merkel after a transcript of the call was leaked, reportedly by Russian agents.

NBC News' Elizabeth Chuck and Reuters contributed to this report.