Obama swings small stick against Russia

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House is imposing targeted sanctions on 11 individual Russians as the Russian government continues to take over the Crimean peninsula and its population of 2 million people.

“We are imposing real costs on Russians, on the Russian economy… and setting a very clear deterrence to actions that may be contemplated,” said an administration official.

The reference to actions “that may be contemplated,” refers to the possibility that Russian tanks may move into the eastern districts of Ukraine, which are mostly populated by ethnic-Russians. The central and western portions of Ukraine are populated by ethnic Ukrainians.

“Russian stands to lose a lot more from isolation than the United States,” said the official.

But U.S. officials are offering a conciliatory pitch to Russia.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev has to be part of any decisions about the governance of its provinces, and is considering some constitutional revisions that could lead to greater autonomy for Crimea and other Russian-populated slice of Ukraine, said an administration official. The government is also moving to crack down on any groups that might threaten Russian residents of Ukraine, the official said.

The list of targeted Russians does not include Russian President Vladimir Putin, but does include several of “cronies,” said a White House official. They’re mostly Russians who are aides to Putin, or who have championed and aided the Russian takeover in Crimea.

A March poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal showed that President Barack Obama’s rating on foreign policy is stuck at only 41 percent. That’s the same level as his overall poll ratings, which are low enough to threaten Democrats’ chances in the November election.

Officials also threatening to sanction additional Russians who help the takeover in Crimea.

The White House is also flying Vice President Joe Biden to eastern Europe, where he’ll meet with leaders of countries northeast of Russia, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

All four countries were controlled or occupied by Russia until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

European officials are also moving into action, and on Tuesday, will sanction 21 Russians, according to a White House official. The European list will include several Russians on the U.S. list.

The sanctions will limit the ability of the individuals to do business with American companies, such as airlines and banks.

The sanctions are damaging Russia’s economy, said officials. The Russian stock market has dropped by 15 percent, and the value of the Russian current has dropped.

On the ground, however, the new ethnic-Russian leadership in Crimea is expected Monday to ask the Russian parliament to accept Crimean into Russia.

The move follows a Sunday referendum where a clear majority of Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine.

White House officials derided the referendum as rigged, as a violation of the Ukraine constitution, and as illegitimate.

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