President Barack Obama ordered new sanctions Thursday on top Russian officials and supporters of the Russian government over the “illegal” annexation of Crimea, while urging Russia to change course and recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Moscow responded almost immediately by slapping travel bans on several senior administration officials and members of Congress, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Obama announced the new U.S. sanctions — and a new executive order that would allow even broader penalties — in a brief statement on the South Lawn of the White House. He has come under increasing pressure over the ineffectiveness of previous rounds of sanctions announced Monday and earlier this month.
“We’ve seen an illegal referendum in Crimea, an illegitimate move by the Russians to annex Crimea, and dangerous risks of escalation including threats to Ukrainian personnel in Crimea and threats to southern and eastern Ukraine as well,” Obama said.
But he said there was an alternate path forward, one that would lead to “de-escalation.”
“The Ukrainians shouldn’t have to choose between the West and Russia,” Obama said. “That can only happen if Russia recognizes the rights of all the Ukrainian people to determine their future.”
The White House had been indicating in recent days that there would be more to come, although without specifics.
The new sanctions will affect another 20 people in Russia, including officials, “cronies” and Bank Rossiya, a Russian entity that senior administration officials labeled a “crony bank.”
If Russia takes additional steps, such as going into eastern Ukraine, the president signed an executive order that would allow far broader economic sanctions against Russia, including against sectors of the Russian economy.
Those sanctions would have a much broader impact on Russia and even the world economy, a senior administration official said.
“Nobody should believe this is the end of what we’re prepared to do. ... This is only the beginning,” a senior administration official said.
The president also called for closer cooperation with Europe on economic and energy issues.
The latest announcement quickly sparked retaliation from Russia.
The Russian travel ban included nine officials and members, including Reid, Boehner, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Senate Energy Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.
Boehner and McCain both tweeted separately that they are “proud” to be included on the list.
Menendez sounded a similar note.
“President Putin’s military invasion and annexation of Crimea is brutal, totally unacceptable, and sadly returns us to a period of Cold War aggression and hostility,” he said in a statement. “It doesn’t have to be this way, but if standing up for the Ukrainian people, their freedom, their hard earned democracy, and sovereignty means I’m sanctioned by Putin, so be it.”