Obama at the White House on Thursday. (AFP)
Washington, March 20: President Obama today announced that he would expand sanctions against Russia, blacklisting wealthy individuals with ties to the government and a bank used by them, and opening the door to broader measures against Russian energy exports.
The measures deliver on Obama’s warning this week that the US would ratchet up the costs for Russia if President Vladimir V. Putin moved to annex the breakaway province of Crimea. But they were aimed at forestalling further Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine, after what Obama described as troubling Russian military movements.
In a tit-for-tat response, Moscow banned nine American officials from entering Russia, including Speaker John A. Boehner, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, Senator John McCain of Arizona, as well as three senior White House officials.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said, “The speaker is proud to be included on a list of those willing to stand against Putin’s aggression.”
Obama made a statement on the South Lawn of the White House today before leaving on a trip to Florida. “The United States is today moving, as we said we would, to impose additional costs on Russia,” he said.
“These are all choices that the Russian government has made, choices that have been rejected by the international community.”
Obama also said he had signed a new executive order that would allow him to impose sanctions on Russian industrial sectors, presumably including its energy exports — a step that would greatly tighten the economic pressure on Russia.
On Monday, the administration announced sanctions against seven Russian officials, including several close advisers to Putin, as well as against separatists figures in Crimea. The executive order signed by Obama laid the legal groundwork to punish Russian companies involved in the arms trade, as well as other officials who work with the Russian government. The administration is now moving on those fronts as well.
The new sanctions, which are coordinated with an expected imposition of new sanctions by the EU, deepens the confrontation between the West and Russia. But it remains unclear whether any of this will put a brake on Russia, which has moved swiftly since the referendum in Crimea last Sunday to annex the province.
Putin’s spokesman said today it was “unacceptable” for the US to impose sanctions on Russians and warned Moscow would respond in kind to US measures meant to punish allies of Putin. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was studying a list of 19 more Russians hit with US visa bans and asset freezes.