Ukraine Russia MH17
An armed pro-Russian separatist gestures to reporters at the MH17 crash siteReuters

The European Union has agreed to impose tougher sanctions on individuals and companies with ties to Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said the bloc would impose penalties against officials it deemed responsible for Russia's actions in Ukraine.

EU foreign ministers met on Tuesday for the first time since a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in eastern Ukraine on 17 July.

Timmermans said the EU's "forceful decision" will see asset freezes and travel bans on more officials with links to the Kremlin.

Timmermans said the ministers requested the EU's executive arm to prepare for tighter sanctions against Russia's arms, energy and financial sectors if Russia does not act to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine.

Some European leaders have accused pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the MH17 passenger airliner and said Russia has been involved in backing the rebels with arms and fighters.

The United States has ramped up pressure on European leaders to boost sanctions after Washington announced penalties against Russia's biggest oil producer, Rosneft, its second biggest gas producer, Novatek, and its third biggest bank Gazprombank.

European leaders had announced softer measures against Moscow on the same day but the plane crash has renewed calls to punish Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Further details on the fresh EU measures will be announced on Thursday.