MOSCOW — Russian officials on Thursday declared U.S. and European sanctions imposed following Moscow’s takeover of Crimea as illegitimate, ineffective and ”not based on international law.”
Even as President Obama announced a new list of sanctions Thursday against Russian officials and elite, the lower house of Russia’s parliament as expected ratified the Kremlin’s treaty allowing the annexation of the Ukrainian region. The measure awaits approval from the upper house, which is also widely seen as a foregone conclusion.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded to the latest sanctions by barring nine American officials from entering Russia. The officials are: Dan Pfeiffer, a senior advisor to President Obama; deputy national security advisors Ben Rhodes and Caroline Atkinson; Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.); and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the U.S. sanctions “illegitimate.”
“One-sided sanctions never, never led to any good,” Lavrov said in televised remarks to the Duma, the lower house of parliament. “They are not based on international law. The U.N. Security Council is the only organ that can take such mandatory measures. The U.N. Security Council has not adopted such measures.”
Russia has veto power on the Security Council as one of its five permanent members, making such U.N. action highly unlikely.
Lavrov called Russia's takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula “the historic decision about the reunification of Crimea with Russia” and said it stemmed from political turmoil in Ukraine. He repeated Moscow’s assertion, which Western officials have declared untrue, of widespread attacks against Russia-speaking Ukrainians since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich was driven from power last month.
“A state coup aided from abroad took place in Russia's fraternal country,” Lavrov said. “Lawlessness reigns there today on a daily basis: Every day registers outrages by nationalist radicals, anti-Semites and other extremists, the authorities' base. There are real threats to human life and security, daily violent cases, flagrant and massive violations of human rights in Ukraine.”
The U.S. sanctions are "laughable" and won't hurt Russia or its officials, said one of the blacklisted Russians, senior lawmaker Sergei Zheleznyak.
“It is really an honor for me to be on that list where they put me for my human rights activities, as I tried to protect my compatriots in Crimea in the face of the fascist and radical nationalist threat,” said Zheleznyak, deputy speaker of the Duma. “On the other hand, as far as I am concerned these sanctions are laughable and useless, as we [state officials] are prohibited by law from having bank accounts and business assets abroad, and I don't have any real estate abroad either.”
Zheleznyak reacted to the ban on his travel to the U.S. by saying that he was not planning “to travel where I am not welcome.”
The U.S. sanctions may not be taken so lightly by some of the wealthy and influential people in Putin's inner circle, said Russian political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky.
“It is a step in the right direction,” he said, because the list includes people “who financially supported the Russian military’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.”
Pionkovsky, a senior researcher with the System Analysis Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, added: “The United States and European Union should continue their pressure and impose sanctions, as they promised, on Russia's giant corporations as well, such as Gazprom and Rosneft, which would also be a serious blow against the Kremlin and may eventually compel it to start rethinking its increasingly aggressive policy.”
Piontkovsky expressed hope that Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom, and billionaire Roman Abramovich, who resides in London, will soon fall under sanctions too.
“Abramovich's role in everything the Kremlin does shouldn't be underestimated, as Abramovich has always been and still is Putin's biggest money bag,” Piontkovsky said.
In Crimea on Thursday, Russian soldiers and pro-Moscow militia armed with automatic weapons and stun grenades attacked and captured the Ukrainian naval vessel Ternopol in the Bay of Sevastopol, Ukraine Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznev wrote in his Twitter account.
“My ship is captured,” Warrant Officer Alexei Kirillov was reported by the UNIAN news agency as saying by telephone. “Unfortunately I can't tell you anything else.”