Obama Steps Up Sanctions Against Russia

Obama Steps Up Sanctions Against Russia
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President Obama expanded U.S. sanctions against Russian individuals and a Russian bank Thursday, warning that the economic costs over time will prove painful to President Vladimir Putin and his allies if Russia escalates its military march into Ukraine.

The president’s third in a series of executive orders took aim at named executive and legislative branch officials in the Russian government, members of Putin’s inner circle, and what the United States called a “crony bank” that supports those deemed responsible for or supportive of the annexation of Crimea.

The sanctions affect assets held in the United States and bar the sanctioned individuals from doing business with U.S. financial institutions. Because of Russia’s holdings and transactions in U.S. dollars, the administration believes the punishments will begin to hurt Putin’s allies and business associates through a web of modern-day finances utilized worldwide.

“This is not our preferred outcome,” Obama said before departing the White House for events in Florida. “These sanctions would not only have a significant impact on the Russian economy, but could also be disruptive to the global economy. However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community.”

Obama’s executive order warned Russia that its valuable economic sectors could be hit next by the United States and European allies, potentially tilting its economy, security and trade relationships into limbo. The order opens the door to punishments affecting other financial institutions, plus Russia’s energy, metals and mining, defense, and engineering sectors.

“These key sectors of the Russian economy are in play,” one Obama adviser warned.

Even as the president ramped up his rebukes of Russia’s actions, his advisers said the administration is wary of discussing U.S. commitments for direct military assistance to Ukraine, preferring to focus on economic aid to the country, as well as continued diplomatic efforts to persuade Putin to avoid new “provocations.”

“We don’t want to take steps to add to the momentum of further militarizing the situation,” one senior White House aide explained.

In Europe early next week, aides said Obama will convene a meeting of his peers from the Group of 7 most industrialized nations to discuss ways to help Ukraine’s fledgling government with economic and other assistance, rather than focus discussions on squeezing Russia, one aide added.

However, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he would meet next week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the G-7 meeting at The Hague in the Netherlands, suggesting that talks with Moscow are to resume.

The White House has given every indication that it does not expect Putin to rescind his takeover of Crimea. With coordination and calibration, the United States and its allies are taking a step-by-step approach, hoping to prevent the Russian government from acting more aggressively, including sending troops across the border into Eastern Ukraine.

“Russia stands to lose a lot,” even if Putin and his lieutenants deny any impact, a senior aide continued. “Sanctions take time to sink in, and take time to have an impact.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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