Obama Orders New Sanctions Against Russia

After more than a month of threats, the Obama administration ordered travel bans and asset freezes for seven Russian officials, including two said to be in Putin’s inner circle, and froze assets for 17 companies this morning. Thirteen Russian companies are set to suffer from additional restrictions as the government will cut off the export or re-export of American-made products to them.

Additionally, the State and Commerce departments announced a new policy that denies export license applications for high technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.

“These sanctions represent the next stage in a calibrated effort to change Russia’s behavior,” Obama said at a news conference in Manila during a state visit.

However, Obama acknowledged that there is no way to be sure that these sanctions will make any difference to Putin’s calculus. The President said, “We don’t yet know whether it is going to work.”

He continued, “the goal is not to go after Mr. Putin personally. The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he’s engaging in Ukraine could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul. To encourage him to actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to diplomatically resolving the crisis in Ukraine.”

Philippines Obama _ChamAt the same time, it appears that extended pressure from the US is doing little to deter the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. They showed no sign of curbing their uprising, seizing public buildings in another town in the east.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the mayor of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was shot by gunmen today and is in critical condition. Mayor Gennady Kernes, who is a one-time supporter of the ousted Ukrainian president Yanukovych, has since taken a more conciliatory approach to the new government. However, it is alleged that during the protests this winter, Mayor Kernes helped recruit gangs of civilians that were sent to Kiev to attack protestors.

In light of all this, the European Union is also expected to add targets to its Russia sanctions list. Ambassadors from the 28 EU states met in Brussels and an EU diplomat said they were expected to add around 15 new names.

After yesterday’s scene wherein separatists in Kharkiv paraded eight unarmed European military monitors before journalists, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Siebert said that these monitors have been held “against the law and without justification.”

“We ask the Russian government to act publicly and internally for their release, to distance itself clearly from such acts and to use its influence on pro-Russian perpetrators and forces in eastern Ukraine to secure their release,” Siebert commented.

According to Reuters, Russian shares dropped on anticipation of the impact of new sanctions. The ruble-denominated MICEX index was down 1.3 percent early on Monday.

The new sanctions demonstrate a heightened level of commitment to stopping Putin. Indeed, the new sanctions could still have a greater impact by widening the net to include personal transactions by the heads of big Russian companies, and the prospect of sectoral sanctions continues to hover over Russian business more generally.

“The heads of Rosneft and Gazprom are rumored to be on the list of targets,” Uralsib bank analysts wrote in a morning note.

But as we well know, Putin doesn’t scare easy and we’ve got to keep the pressure on. Europe has to follow the United States’ lead and make sure to impose their own sanctions.

And most of all we must remain vigilant. The situation in Ukraine has not improved – it has gotten worse with each day that passes.

We are facing a wily enemy with no regard for the Ukrainian people or international law more generally. It’s going to take quick thinking and tough, coercive diplomacy to stand in his way.

Read more at Forbes.com