SYDNEY Australia said on Wednesday it would slap further sanctions and travel bans on Russian and Ukrainian individuals and also target companies for the first time, citing what it said was Russia's failure to lower tensions in eastern Ukraine.
The statement by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop coincided with an announcement by Russia's Defense Ministry that Russian troops that took part in military exercises near Ukraine were preparing to return to their permanent bases.
NATO and the United States say they have seen no signs of a withdrawal.
Bishop said Australia had expanded financial sanctions and travel bans to cover an additional 38 Russian and Ukrainian individuals, bringing the total to 50. Sanctions will be applied to 11 companies for the first time, she said, without naming the people or the companies.
The announcement also coincided with a new warning to Russia from U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, during a visit to Bucharest, not to undermine Ukraine's weekend presidential election.
Bishop said she remained "deeply concerned" about violence and loss of life in eastern Ukraine, where armed pro-Russian separatists pressing to separate regions from Kiev's control have seized public buildings and fought with Ukraine's army.
"Russia must take concrete and demonstrable steps toward de-escalation of the situation, in line with the commitments it made in Geneva on 17 April," Bishop said.
She was referring to a deal struck last month at international talks to reduce tensions in the region. The accord has had little effect, with Russia and Western nations accusing each other of hindering its implementation.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Ron Popeski and Raissa Kasolowsky)