US sanctions 11 in Putin's inner circle

The Obama administration has hit at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in a bid to punish Russia for poaching Crimea from Ukraine, slapping sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials it said had been instrumental in orchestrating the division.

Those targeted include two of Putin’s aides and top officials in the Russian Parliament, along with deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the rump prime minister of Crimea and others the administration called “key ideologists” of Russian’s intervention in Ukraine.

In Moscow, Putin responded Monday (local time) by signing a decree recognising Crimea’s independence from Ukraine, while the breakaway Black Sea region asked the United Nations for membership as the Republic of Crimea, Russian news agencies reported. The Crimean Parliament also passed a resolution asking that Russia absorb it, a step that would require approval by the Russian Parliament, or Duma.

US President Barack Obama, who talked with Putin as recently as Sunday in an unsuccessful effort to get him to relinquish his hold in Crimea, appeared at the White House to announce the sanctions and threaten more if the crisis escalates.

“Further provocations will achieve nothing, except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,” Obama said. “Continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy.”

The White House said it fashioned the sanctions to target individuals who “wield influence in the Russian government and those responsible for the situation in Ukraine’’.

Obama said he still believes there could be a diplomatic resolution to the burgeoning crisis, but spoke about it only briefly. And White House officials said he expanded an earlier executive order to allow the administration to target what a senior administration called “Russian government cronies” — Russian arms traffickers and others who provide support to senior government officials.

The sanctions mean that any assets the individuals have within US jurisdiction are frozen and US persons are prohibited from doing business with them.

One of those targeted, Dmitry Rogozin, purportedly tweeted out: “Comrade @BarackObama, but what about those who do not have any accounts or property abroad? Or U didn’t think about it?”

Comrade @BarackObama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or U didn't think about it?)

— Dmitry Rogozin (@DRogozin) March 17, 2014


I think some prankster prepared the draft of this Act of the US President)

— Dmitry Rogozin (@DRogozin) March 17, 2014

The administration couldn’t say whether any of the targets had assets in the United States or Europe, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said banks routinely reject doing business with people whose names are on international sanctions lists, even if they aren’t legally barred from doing so.

The European Union announced sanctions against 21 individuals, and administration officials said the US will look at additional sanctions, “should Russian activities increase in intensity.”

They said the two lists are expected to have a “multiplying impact’’.

“The fact that both the United States and the European Union are acting together today to make very clear that what has transpired in Ukraine is illegitimate is a critical point,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition that he not be further identified.

Putin wasn’t among those sanctioned — a move administration officials said would be “highly unusual and rather extraordinary” — but White House press secretary Jay Carney didn’t rule out that he could be in the future.

“We have an active effort underway to assess what further steps and what further sanctions we can and could impose, should the events dictate the need to do that,” Carney said.

Senator John McCain, who has blamed Obama’s Russia policy for emboldening Putin in Crimea, called the response “wholly inadequate” and urged the administration to “rush” military aid to Ukraine’s government.

“In the absence of a stronger US and Western response to this aggression, we run the risk of signalling to Putin that he can be even more expansive in furthering his old imperial ambitions,” McCain said.

Carney said the administration is reviewing requests by the Ukrainian government and military for assistance and hasn’t ruled it out, “but our focus continues to be on supporting economic and diplomatic measures to de-escalate the situation, not escalate it”.

Administration officials said the sanctions are “far and away” the most sweeping applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War. But analysts suggest sanctions — which have been used with limited success against already isolated nations such as North Korea or Iran — may be difficult to make stick in Russia.

David McFadden, director of the Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies department at Fairfield University in Connecticut, said the sanctions were unlikely to make a difference quickly. Still, Russia’s efforts to become a modern economic power have made it vulnerable to sanctions, if the world is willing to wait for them to bite.

“In the long run, Russia’s economy is tied to the international community and it cannot isolate itself,” McFadden said. “In the short run, he’s got Crimea.”

-McClatchy Washington Bureau