The Obama administration and its European allies have not succeeded in preventing Russia from overtaking Crimea, a region of Ukraine.
Now, the administration’s challenge is to keep the Russians from overtaking other regions of Ukraine, as they expand their military forces into other areas.
President Obama has spoken with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin at least once a week during this crisis, the latest call had the White House stating that a referendum “would never be recognized by the United States and the international community” and that “we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions.”
Today, President Obama issued an executive order in freezing the assets and banning visas for Russians who the U.S. deemed responsible for the seize of Crimea and for interfering with Ukrainian sovereignty.
Many of the Russian officials targeted were top aides or allies of President Putin, and the White House threatened to go after more if Russia did not back down.
Europe also placed their own sanctions on Russia on Monday, targeting 21 Russian officials. Their list partially overlapped with the American list, according to Obama administration officials; however, the names will not be released until Tuesday.
“We’re making it clear there are consequences for these actions,” President Obama said in a televised statement in the White House briefing room on Monday morning. “The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He repeated that Russia can still back down. “Going forward, we can calibrate our response based on whether Russia chooses to escalate or de-escalate the situation,” he said. “Now, I believe there is still a path to resolve this situation diplomatically.”
The order has frozen any assets owned in the United States by the targeted Russians, disallowing them any access as well as cutting off any business dealings with the U.S. This action also influenced foreign banks and other institutions not to do business with them either, officials said.
The sanctions are the second round approved by President Obama. The first round banned visas for nearly a dozen Russian and Ukrainian individuals but did not include financial measures.
As Russian-backed military forces surrounded Ukrainian troops in the Crimea, Senator Christopher S. Murphy said the United States will hold Russia “personally responsible” for the well being of the Ukrainian marines and others.
“I pray to God they don’t open fire,” Murphy said by phone. If Ukrainian troops are harmed, he said, “there’s going to be hell to pay for Russia from the West.”
Senator John McCain said the U.S. needs a “fundamental reassessment” of its relationship with Putin.
“No more reset buttons,” McCain said on CNN. “Treat him for what he is. That does not mean re-ignition of the Cold War, but it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the Old Russian Empire.”
Even though President Obama’s target list was much more expansive than the first, he held off more severe sanctions in an effort to leave room for further action if necessary. “We have the ability to escalate our actions in response to Russian actions,” a senior administration official told reporters.
These sanctions involving President Putin’s circle are sure to provoke a countermove by Russia, which has threatened to go after American officials and interests if Obama took such action.
U.S. officials stated that they are “braced” for some kind of Russian retaliation, but said, “Russia stands a lot more to lose from political and economic isolation than the United States. The world is with us.”
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