President Barack Obama on Monday froze the U.S. assets of seven Russian officials, including top advisers to President Vladimir Putin, for their support of Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine.
Obama said he was moving to “increase the cost” to Russia, and he warned that more people could face financial punishment.
“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” Obama said. He added in a brief statement from the White House that he still believes there could be a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and that the sanctions can be calibrated based on whether Russia escalates or pulls back in its involvement.
The Treasury Department also is imposing sanctions on four Ukrainians — including former President Viktor Yanukovych, a former top Ukrainian presidential adviser and two Crimea-based separatist leaders — under existing authority under a previous Obama order. Senior administration officials also said they are working to identify what they called “Russian government cronies” to target the assets of those supporting the Crimea unrest, including individuals working in the arms industry.
The administration officials said Putin wasn’t sanctioned despite his support of the Crimean referendum because the U.S. doesn’t usually begin with heads of state. But the officials, speaking to reporters on a conference call on the condition they not be quoted by name, say those sanctioned are very close to Putin and that the sanctions are “designed to hit close to home.”
Pro-Russian supporters dance as they celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014. Crimeans voted Sunday in a referendum to join Russia as tensions escalated in eastern Ukraine in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. Russia President Vladimir Putin vowed to “respect” the outcome of the vote in a region that is now under the de facto control of Russian forces despite an international outcry.
The U.S. announcement came shortly after the European Union announced travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people they have linked to the unrest in Crimea. Obama administration officials say there is some overlap between the U.S. and European list, which wasn’t immediately made public.
The sanctions were expected after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly Sunday in favor of the split. Crimea’s parliament on Monday declared the region an independent state. The administration officials say there is some concrete evidence that some ballots for the referendum arrived pre-marked in many cities and “there are massive anomalies in the vote.” The officials did not say what that evidence was.
The United States, European Union and others say the action violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law and took place in the strategic peninsula under duress of Russian military intervention. Putin maintained that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination, according to the Kremlin.
The administration officials said they will be looking at additional sanctions if Russia moves to annex Crimea or takes other action. Those targeted will have all U.S. assets frozen and no one in the United States can do business with them under Obama’s order.
“Today’s actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation,” the White House said in a statement.
“Today’s actions also serve as notice to Russia that unless it abides by its international obligations and returns its military forces to their original bases and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the United States is prepared to take additional steps to impose further political and economic costs,” the statement said.
Administration officials say those Obama targeted also are key political players in Russia also responsible for the country’s tightening of human rights and civil liberties in the country. Obama’s order targets were:
— Vladislav Surkov, a Putin aide
— Sergey Glazyev, a Putin adviser
— Leonid Slutsky, a state Duma deputy
— Andrei Klishas, member of the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
— Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Federation Council
— Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation.
— Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy
Crimea residents did not appear worried on Monday about sanctions imposed on Russian officials by the United States and the European Union.
Crimea’s declaration of independence from Ukraine has triggered the toughest Western sanctions against Russia since the Cold War.
One Simferopol resident said that Russia is not a country Americans “can use as a doormat”, and added that Russia “is starting to dominate the world and Americans should understand that.”
Another resident was convinced that the sanctions will not influence Russia’s relations with Crimea. His opinion was echoed by another local man, who said he didn’t see any sense in imposing the sanctions as they weren’t significant enough.
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