Facing one of his toughest foreign policy tests yet, Obama made
clear the United States was prepared to impose more sanctions if
Russia formally annexed Crimea in response to a weekend referendum
in the region that Washington and its allies called illegitimate.
"Going forward, we can calibrate our response based on whether
Russia chooses to escalate or to de-escalate the situation," Obama
The sanctions were the most visible sign of U.S. anger at Russia's
attempt to absorb the Crimea region in southern Ukraine, reflecting
the deepest plunge in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.
Senior administration officials told reporters the penalties were
the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia in more than two
Republican Senator John McCain, however, said Obama did not go far
enough when the president cited so few individuals and no
"The crisis in Ukraine is about more than Ukraine. It is also about
the credibility of America's global leadership and whether the
future will be defined by the values of the West, or by dictators
and aggressors who think they can bully the free world into
submission. We must recognize that reality and be equal to it,"
McCain said in a statement.
The U.S. sanctions came in an executive order signed by Obama a day
after a Crimea referendum aimed at allowing Russia to annex the
"If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to
impose further sanctions," Obama said.
Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Crimea as a sovereign
state and was expected to take up the annexation issue with the
Russian parliament on Tuesday.
Obama's ability to influence Putin has proved minimal. The two spoke
four times over the past three weeks even as Russia moved closer to
The belief among U.S. officials, however, is that calibrated
sanctions over time will damage the Russian economy, which has close
ties to Europe, and force Moscow to rethink.
Amid fears that Russia might move into eastern Ukraine, Obama said
provocations will achieve nothing except to "further isolate Russia
and diminish its place in the world."
Obama's order freezes any assets in the United States and bans
travel into the country of seven ranking Russian government
officials and four individuals identified as Crimea-based separatist
leaders. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who fled Kiev
after bloody protests against his rule, was among those sanctioned.
The United States also reached into Putin's inner circle by naming
presidential aide Vladislav Surkov and adviser Sergei Glazyev.
Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think
tank and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said Surkov was a
long-time Putin assistant and that Glazyev had been the Kremlin's
point person on Ukraine over the past year.
"These steps by themselves likely will not change Mr. Putin's
course, but he has to take account that both U.S. and EU officials
say more sanctions are on offer, perhaps including broader financial
measures against Russia," Pifer said.
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Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin, and two state Duma
deputies, Leonid Slutsky and Yelena Mizulina also were targeted.
A senior official said Obama's order cleared the way for sanctions
on people associated with the Russian weapons industry and targeted
"the personal wealth of cronies" of the Russian leadership.
Putin himself was not sanctioned. A senior Obama administration
official said it would have been highly unusual and extraordinary to
target a head of state.
White House spokesman Jay Carney did not rule out sanctioning Putin
or providing military assistance to Ukraine, but said the focus so
far was on diplomacy and trying to de-escalate the situation.
Carney shrugged off a Russian TV anchor's comment that only Russia
had the power to reduce the United States to radioactive dust.
"People say crazy things on TV all the time," he said.
The administration announced plans for sanctions two months ago but
had not named the individuals until Monday. The European Union also
imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 21 Russian and Ukrainian
officials on Monday.
Obama said he would travel to Europe next week and that Vice
President Joe Biden was headed on Monday to Poland and Lithuania to
reassure U.S. allies in the region.
"Our message will be clear, as NATO allies we have a solemn
commitment to our collective defense and we will uphold this
commitment," he said.
A senior Obama administration official said there was "concrete
evidence" that some ballots in the Crimea referendum arrived in some
Crimean cities pre-marked.
Officials said they did not fear retaliatory measures from Russia,
saying they believed that country had more to lose politically and
economically from isolation than the United States. They doubted
Russia would cut off cooperation in trying to resolve disputes with
Iran and Syria.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Susan Heavey;
editing by Amanda Kwan)
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