After several days of criticism over the lack of energy in Western sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, Barack Obama attempted to up the ante a bit this morning. He announced an expansion of the individual sanctions already in place, and added a Russian bank to its enforcement. Obama also warned that further sanctions will aim at sectors of the Russian economy rather than individuals:
President Barack Obama says the United States is levying a new round of economic sanctions on individuals in Russia, both inside and outside the government, in retaliation for the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.
Obama says he has also signed a new executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key sectors of the Russian economy.
NBC also reports that the warning is still just that — a warning:
President Barack Obama said Thursday that he has signed an executive order giving the United States authority to impose sanctions on “key sectors of the Russian economy” if necessary in light of Russia’s “dangerous risks of escalation” in Ukraine.
“These sanctions would not only have a significant impact on the Russian economy, but could also be disruptive to the global economy,” Obama warned. “However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community.”
Obama also announced that the United States will impose further sanctions on Russian individuals with “substantial resources and influence” on Russian leadership and on a bank that has provided “material support” to those individuals.
Stephen Hayes asked one of his resources on the region about the impact of this announcement, and got a disappointing answer:
This belies an incremental approach that might have been more effective at the beginning of the crisis. It’s understandable that the White House wants to both protect the American economy from a trade war and allow Vladimir Putin a face-saving path to retreat from his aggression, but Putin clearly doesn’t want it. The editorial board at the Dallas Morning News wondered before this statement when Obama plans to catch up to reality, and it’s doubtful they heard anything encouraging this morning:
[T]his week’s wrist-slap sanctions to a handful of Putin advisers — but not Putin himself — yielded more mockery than concern in Russia. These followed by hours the kangaroo-court vote in Crimea — 97 percent! — to separate from Ukraine. And a day after that, in a shocking development, Russia voted to wrap Crimea in a mother-bear embrace.
And with each passing moment, the Western powers sound more and more ineffectual. Torrents of words, tiny actions. President Barack Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden to the region, which might have led our Eastern European allies to ask whether he brought some real sanctions with him.
Sorry, no, but words we got!
Obama’s sanctions, revealed in conjunction with the European Union, were intended to inflict economic pain to Putin and Russia. Obama refrained from calling Putin’s mother a hamster or noting that his father smelled of elderberries but did reserve the option to taunt him a second time. …
Ukraine, meanwhile, waves a 1994 treaty in which the U.S., United Kingdom and Russia pledged to respect its territorial boundaries and wonders if anyone remembers signing anything.
So far, Putin seems unfazed by the West’s tepid and incremental reaction. Russia has a few tricks up its own sleeve, too. They imposed a half-day ban on imports from Ukraine in retaliation, although it has apparently ended. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the reliance Ukraine has on Russia for its economy:
Russia halted all imports from Ukraine for about 12 hours early Thursday, raising fears of a full-blown embargo that could further cripple the country’s moribund economy, officials said.
Russian never fully explained what began or ended the disruptions, which left hundreds of trucks standing at the Ukrainian side of the border. Ukrainian officials said that Russian border-control officers began stopping Ukrainian trucks entering Russia after midnight Thursday, and that trade resumed at about noon.
Russia’s customs service denied that it had closed the border or stopped imports altogether, but said that it had “strengthened controls” at border posts because of information about imports of banned goods including weapons.
Ukraine fears an embargo on its exports to Russia, which has in the past punished neighbors for taking political positions deemed hostile to Moscow. During a chill in relations with Georgia, Russia banned Georgian wine and mineral water for putative quality-control issues. Last summer, Russia’s consumer watchdog stopped imports of Roshen candies, citing safety concerns. Roshen is controlled by Petro Poroshenko, a Ukrainian candy tycoon and pro-European politician.
Russia also issued warnings to Kyiv after Ukraine announced that Russian visitors would need to apply for visas. Moscow specifically warned Ukraine not to seize Gazprom property (after seizing Ukrainian bases in Crimea), saying such a move would lead to “a quite complex chain reaction, from which … Ukraine will not benefit.” Somehow, these warnings and threats seem a little more ominous than the individual sanctions being applied in the West.
Meanwhile, the Duma’s lower chamber has overwhelmingly voted to approve Crimean annexation, and the bill will go to their upper chamber tomorrow. The sanctions thus far have not produced much effect on Russian politics, as only one deputy in the Duma registered disapproval:
The vote in the State Duma to annex Crimea was 443 to 1. The measure needed 300 votes to pass.
The bill is scheduled to be taken up Friday by the upper house, the Federation Council, where expected approval will make Crimea officially part of the country under Russian law — despite the insistence of the United States, Europe and others that it remain part of Ukraine. …
The lone Duma dissenter, Ilya Ponomaryov, later tweeted, “The best intentions have led us to a big political mistake: I vote against the war.”
Too bad we’re not convincing more Russians of the same thing.