Thursday, July 24, 2014
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Obama hits closest Putin allies with sanctions

President  Obama makes a statement on Ukraine, Thursday, March 20, 2014, on the South Lawn at the White House before departing for Florida. He said the U.S. is levying a new round of economic sanctions on individuals in Russia, both inside and outside the government, in retaliation for the Kremlin´s actions in Ukraine. He also said he has also signed a new executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key sectors of the Russian economy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Obama makes a statement on Ukraine, Thursday, March 20, 2014, on the South Lawn at the White House before departing for Florida. He said the U.S. is levying a new round of economic sanctions on individuals in Russia, both inside and outside the government, in retaliation for the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine. He also said he has also signed a new executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key sectors of the Russian economy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
WASHINGTON - President Obama raised the stakes in an East-West confrontation over Crimea on Thursday by targeting some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest longtime political and business allies with personal sanctions.

The extension of visa bans and asset freezes into Putin's inner circle came as Moscow rushed to consolidate the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, seized from Ukraine last month, and to boost its military presence in the region.

Russian troops took over three Ukrainian warships in Crimea on Thursday, using stun grenades in one incident, a Ukrainian spokesman said. Kiev also said it had begun withdrawing its border guards, surrounded by Russian forces, from Crimea to the mainland.

The 20 names added to the U.S. blacklist included Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, major oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko, and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and at the Sochi Olympics, as well as Putin's chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief.

Moscow retaliated by announcing its own sanctions against senior U.S. politicians, with the Foreign Ministry saying U.S. action would "hit the United States like a boomerang."

Those on the Russian list included Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio.).

Like their Russian counterparts, the U.S. lawmakers laughed off the sanctions or treated them as badge of honor.

McCain laced his response with sarcasm. "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen," he said in a statement. "Nonetheless, I will never cease my efforts on behalf of the freedom, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea."

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to add 12 more Russian and Crimean officials to their sanctions list for visa bans and asset freezes and to cancel a planned EU-Russia summit in Sochi and forthcoming bilateral summits with Moscow.

The names will be published on Friday, but diplomats said the EU would not go as far as Washington in hitting Putin's money men.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU had a different legal basis and needed proof that individuals had been directly involved in violating Ukraine's sovereignty.

She told reporters that the executive European Commission had been tasked to prepare for possible broad economic sanctions in case Russia moved farther into Ukraine or acted to destabilize the situation.

Officials said the sanctions could affect trade, finance, energy, and arms supplies.

The EU also agreed to send its own observer mission to Ukraine if Moscow continues to block monitors from the pan-European Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

EU sources said that behind closed doors the leaders also discussed a radical plan to reduce their dependence on Russian energy by agreeing to negotiate gas purchases collectively with Moscow instead of country-by-country. The leaders made no mention of this at a late-night news conferences.

The sources said the EU would also accelerate work to upgrade cross-border energy networks to reduce individual member states' vulnerability to supply cuts, and speed up building new liquefied natural gas import terminals to diversify suppliers.

Russian forces took control of Crimea in late February after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by protests sparked by his decision to spurn a trade deal with the EU and seek closer ties with Moscow. The military seizure has been mostly bloodless.


Targeted by Putin

A look at President Obama's advisers and the U.S. lawmakers targeted by Russian sanctions:

Obama advisers

Caroline Atkinson, a deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.

Daniel Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama.

Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

U.S. lawmakers

John A. Boehner, the House speaker, has supported Obama's pursuit of sanctions and has urged the administration to speed up the permit process to increase U.S. natural gas exports to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Harry Reid, a Democratic senator from Nevada who runs the U.S. Senate, sets the legislative agenda.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has called for stronger measures against Russia, calling Obama's responses timid. "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen."

Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has criticized Putin's annexation of Crimea as a "reckless and unacceptable act that contravenes all international norms and laws" and said it called for a swift response from the United States, Europe and other allies. Menendez tweeted: "If standing up for democracy and sovereignty in Ukraine means I'm sanctioned by Putin, I'll take it."

Mary Landrieu (D., La.) chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Landrieu, who is seeking reelection this year to a fourth term, had strongly criticized the Russian government after it ended American adoptions of Russian children.

Dan Coats (R., Ind.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has cosponsored a resolution, which passed the Senate unanimously, that condemned the Russian seizure of Crimea. Coats tweeted: "While I'm disappointed that I won't be able to go on vacation with my family in Siberia this summer, I am honored to be on this list."

- AP

Steve Holland and Maria Tsvetkova Reuters
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