EU foreign ministers on Monday imposed new sanctions on Syria and were considering fresh measures against Iran, hours after discussing the two countries with Russia's top diplomat, dpa reported.
Moscow has drawn the EU's ire by joining forces with Beijing in the UN Security Council to block international action against the Syrian regime.
Tensions were further fuelled recently by an EU antitrust investigation into the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters on Monday morning that he hadn't seen "any progress" on Syria at the dinner talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, noting that "as has been the case for many months with Russia, we didn't reach an agreement."
Others were more optimistic, with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi speaking of "positive" signs in the general EU-Russia partnership and EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton praising Lavrov for showing "absolutely determined support" for UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
"I am convinced that the Russian side realizes that the brutality in Syria has to be stopped," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said. "But we have to be realistic - before the US elections, nothing will happen in the UN Security Council."
"I hope that new movement will be possible (on Syria)," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added. "More and more, all those involved should recognize that the danger of a conflagration is growing. Nobody - even Russia - can not have an interest in that."
In a bid to up the pressure on Syria, the ministers on Monday applied fresh travel bans and asset freezes on 28 people and two entities - in their 20th round of Syrian sanctions since May 2011.
"What we have had so far, you can see that this was too little," Austrian state secretary Reinhold Lopatka said. "Syria is in a dramatic situation. We now have 300,000 refugees already and this figure could still increase by several hundreds of thousands."
Westerwelle did not rule out hosting some of those refugees in Germany - following a call by Turkey's European affairs minister for the EU to open its doors - but said that it could only happen "in the European context and in agreement with the United Nations."
Ministers were also due on Monday to consider more aggressive action against Iran over its nuclear programme. Tehran insists its work is for peaceful ends, but the West fears that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
A ban on Iranian natural gas imports is on the table, diplomats said, after the implementation this year of an oil embargo.
Other measures include EU prohibitions on the transport or storage of Iranian oil and further limits on financial transactions with Iran's banks, diplomats said. Asset freezes for entities that offer "substantial support for the government" were also in the works.
"The sanctions, we know, are having an effect ... You have to continue with the pressure," Ashton noted. "I do hope that (Iran) will see that this is an opportunity for them to make the decision on a purely civil nuclear programme."
Also on Monday's agenda were the extension of sanctions on the Belarusian regime until October 2013 and a discussion on military support for crisis-plagued Mali.
Edited by: S. Isayev