WASHINGTON – Newly levied visa restrictions and an executive order allowing financial sanctions against people or groups "threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine" will allow the U.S. to "impose costs" on Russia for its actions in Crimea, senior administration officials said Thursday.
U.S. officials also rejected the idea of a referendum on whether Crimea should remain part of Ukraine, which Russian-backed officials announced Thursday. Any such decisions have to be made "with the government in Kiev," the Ukrainian capital, said a senior administration official, one of several who briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified by name.
"You can't have a situation where the legitimate government of the country is excluded from decision making about the future of the country," the official said.
Under the new executive order on financial sanctions, which President
The order allows sanctions against people involved in "undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine; threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; [or] contributing to the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine" – categories that could reach officials of the former Ukrainian government of Victor Yanukovich as well as Russian officials.
U.S. officials described the visa ban and the financial sanctions as tools, the use of which could be ratcheted up or down depending on Russian actions.
“There is an opportunity for Russia to de-escalate” the
Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine with a heavy majority of Russian speakers and a large Russian naval base on the Black Sea, has been the focus of the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The moves add to existing visa restrictions on people involved in human rights abuses in Ukraine and mark a further escalation of U.S. pressure on Russia. U.S. officials repeatedly have said they intend to ramp up pressure on people close to Russian President
The White House statement repeated the U.S. call on Russia "to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis through direct and immediate dialogue" with the government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, along with "the immediate pull-back of Russia's military forces to their bases, the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, and support for the urgent deployment of international observers and human rights monitors who can assure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians."