Obama announces new sanctions, threatens more

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama Thursday announced another cautious round of sanctions against more Russian government officials, but also threatened significant sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy if Russia continues its expansion into Ukraine.

“The world is watching with grave concerns as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine,” Obama said Thursday.

He announced the new sanctions at 11:10 a.m. while standing in front of a helicopter prior to his departure from the White House for a trip to Florida, where he’s scheduled to participate in a campaign-style event and two fundraisers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is ramping up the pressure on the United States. The Russian government has already annexed Crimea on Monday.

The new round of U.S. sanctions are relatively small-scale.

The new travel and banking sanctions were imposed on several top Putin supporters, and on one medium-sized bank, named Bank Rossiya.

If Russia does advance into Ukraine, sanctions will be extended to major Russia industrial sectors, such as energy and mining, officials said. “We are prepared to target those entities,” in there is a deeper incursion, a senior administration official said Thursday.

But Obama has not approved military aid or arms sales to Ukraine, or the deployment of U.S. troops to the country.

“Further escalating the conflict through the introduction of U.S. military forces in the Ukraine is not something anybody is suggesting,” a White House official said.

Hand-held anti-tank missiles, high-tech landmines and night-vision gear would likely help repel a Russian invasion of central Ukraine, but would also greatly ratchet up tensions and increase bloodshed.

“We will be reviewing that [possibility of military aid] on a regular basis, going forward,” the official said.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, said Tuesday that Ukrainian government leaders believe Russia will invade. “It’s crystal clear for us that Russian authorities will try to move further and escalate the situation in southern and eastern Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk said.

A large financial aid package to Ukraine is currently stuck while GOP and Democratic leaders try to attach other political priorities to the aid package.

Obama and his aides have repeatedly hinted that Ukraine is allowed to formally accept the Russian takeover of Crimea, if Russia withdraws its troops.

“As we’ve talked about, there is a means by which the residents of Crimea, the Crimean region of Ukraine, can seek a change in their territorial status, their relationship to the central [Ukraine] government in Kyiv,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

“The Ukrainian government has indicated that it is willing to discuss constitutional reform and other issues, but it has to be done not at the point of a gun, not under threat of force, but in accordance with Ukrainian law, with international law, and not over the heads of democratically elected representatives of the Ukrainian people,” said Carney.

Russian leaders are stepping up their threats, and their diplomatic reassurances.

On Monday, when Putin announced Russia would annex Crimea he declared that Russia had a deep interest in the welfare of Russians living in Ukraine, but also said he had no intention of grabbing the Russian-majority slices of Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested that Russia would help Iran build nuclear weapons. He offset that threat by saying “we wouldn’t like to use these [Iran nuclear talks] talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes taking into account the sentiments in some European capitals, Brussels and Washington.”

Russia is also pressuring the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, by threatening to restrict trade with Russia.

Russia’s defense minister also claimed they’ve begun negotiating for a naval base in Cuba.

Russian officials have also threatened to impose symbolic legal travel and economic sanctions on U.S. leaders, matching the sanctions placed by U.S. officials on several Russian leaders.

A U.S. official said Wednesday that Russian trade with Ukraine is being shut down, amid growing intimidation of Ukrainians in Crimea.

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