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Obama unveils new sanctions against Russia, which bans U.S. lawmakers

RussiaUkraineUkraine Crisis (2013-2014)Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeBarack Obama

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Thursday announced new economic sanctions against Russian government officials, influential individuals and a Russian bank, threatening to come back with tougher penalties if Moscow does not deescalate the crisis in Ukraine.

“Further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community,” Obama said in remarks on the South Lawn of the White House. The U.S. is concerned that "Russia has positioned its military" in a threatening way, he added.

The president said the new sanctions would target additional senior Russian government officials, other individuals with "substantial resources and influence," and a bank. He also signed an executive order that would allow him to slap broader sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy, a move that “is not our preferred outcome,” Obama said, acknowledging that such sanctions could be “disruptive” to the global economy.

A short time after Obama’s statement, Russia announced that it was imposing entry bans on nine U.S. lawmakers and officials in retaliation for Washington's sanctions over Crimea, the Associated Press reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s list included House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The new U.S. sanctions will hit 16 Russian government officials, members of Putin’s inner circle and Bank Rossiya, the bank used by many senior officials of the Russian Federation.

The government officials who were targeted are high-ranking bureaucrats and lawmakers who publicly backed Putin’s call to use Russian forces to occupy Crimea, according to the Treasury Department, which issued a statement identifying the individuals who were sanctioned. 

Those in Putin’s inner circle include Yuri Kovalchuk, the largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya and Putin’s personal banker; Gennady Timchenko, a founder of a commodity trading company involved in the oil and energy markets; and Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, brothers who made billions on Putin-awarded contracts with Gazprom, the state-controlled energy company, and the Sochi Winter Olympics. 

The new penalties build on sanctions the U.S. and European Union announced Monday in a last-ditch attempt to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin from formally annexing Crimea. Those penalties, targeting just a handful of Russian and Ukrainian officials, did nothing to shift Putin’s course. Administration officials have since promised more would be coming.

Obama’s options are limited. In a television interview on Wednesday, he argued that he doesn’t want to do anything that would “trigger an actual war with Russia.” The administration thus far has turned away the idea of sending military equipment to the new Ukrainian government.

Rather, the White House is focused on sending financial aid to the nascent government and tightening the economic pressure on Putin. The White House warned Wednesday that international sanctions will eventually target Russia’s business oligarchs, who have extensive holdings around the world.

U.S. and European officials have tried to present a united front, though disagreements in Europe have made that difficult. Some European countries have been pushing for strong action, while those more dependent on Russia for energy and trade are more reluctant to back tough penalties that might also create economic trouble at home.

To date, the threats and sanctions seem to have had little effect on Putin’s decision making. Western officials fear the former KGB operative may push further into Ukraine, while leaders of other neighboring countries have expressed anxiety over Russia’s plans.

Vice President Joe Biden was deployed this week to Eastern Europe to reassure NATO allies that the U.S. will stand up against any aggressive acts. Ukraine is not a NATO member.

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey

christi.parsons@latimes.com

Twitter: @cparsons

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