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Obama expands sanctions on Russian individuals after Crimea referendum

In the wake of Russia's actions to annex Crimea, President Obama has expanded sanctions against Russian individuals who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin but not Putin himself because it is not common to sanction a head of state.
In the wake of Russia's actions to annex Crimea, President Obama has expanded sanctions against Russian individuals who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin but not Putin himself because it is not common to sanction a head of state.
© 2014 Karen Rubin/

President Obama today expanded sanctions against Russian individuals in response to the referendum held in Crimea which the United States and the European Union have said was illegitimate and held under duress.

The newly issued Executive Order (E.O.) that expands upon an earlier EO signed March 10, imposing sanctions on specific officials of the Russian government, any individual or entity that operates in the Russian arms industry, and any designated individual or entity that acts on behalf of, or that provides material or other support to, any senior Russian government official.

"We have fashioned these sanctions to impose costs on named individuals who wield influence in the Russian government and those responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine," the White House stated. "We stand ready to use these authorities in a direct and targeted fashion as events warrant."

The sanctions were described by a senior administration official as the comprehensive applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War, "far and away so. There weren't comparable sanctions after Georgia intervention."

At the same time, the US held the door open to Russia for diplomatic resolution, stressing that the issues that Russia have raised as its pretense for seizing control of Crimea are being addressed by the government in Ukraine - namely, constitutional reforms and greater autonomy for Crimea.

In response to the Russian government’s actions contributing to the crisis in Ukraine, this new E.O. lists seven Russian government officials who are being designated for sanctions. These individuals are Vladislav Surkov, Sergey Glazyev, Leonid Slutsky, Andrei Klishas, Valentina Matviyenko, Dmitry Rogozin, and Yelena Mizulina.

"The United States also will seek to hold accountable individuals who use their resources or influence to support or act on behalf of senior Russian government officials. We recognize that the Russian leadership derives significant support from, and takes action through, individuals who do not themselves serve in any official capacity. Our current focus is to identify these individuals and target their personal assets, but not companies that they may manage on behalf of the Russian state."

In addition to the new E.O., the Treasury Department today has imposed sanctions on four other individuals under E.O. 13660, issued on March 6, for their actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine and in undermining the Government of Ukraine. They are Crimea-based separatist leaders Sergey Aksyonov and Vladimir Konstantinov; former Ukrainian presidential chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk; and former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych.

"Today’s actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation. The United States, together with international partners, will continue to stand by the Ukrainian government to ensure that costs are imposed on Crimean separatists and their Russian backers. Today’s actions also serve as notice to Russia that unless it abides by its international obligations and returns its military forces to their original bases and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the United States is prepared to take additional steps to impose further political and economic costs."

The European Union is expected to announce its own list of sanctioned individuals - some 21 - that includes some overlap with the US list and also some differences.

Today, in a press call to further detail the actions the US is taking, senior administration officials described the background to the sanctions, taken "under the national emergency with respect to Ukraine that finds that the actions and policies of the Russian government with respect to Ukraine -– including through the deployment of Russian military forces in the Crimea region of Ukraine –- undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets."

"President Obama has been very clear since the Russian intervention in Crimea that we together with our European allies would be imposing costs on Russia for violating Ukraine's territorial sovereignty, even as we offered diplomatic pathway to de-escalation, Russia continued violation," a senior administration official said.

The officials, citing the irregularities and duress surrounding the voting process, discounted the referendum as illegitimate.

"Yesterday, had the so-called referendum on future of Crimea which took place without the participation and involvement of the government in Kyiv, a violation of Ukraine's constitution, took place in environment of coercion with Russia violating international law with incursion into Crimea."

"We have been in regular contact with our European friends over the course of last two weeks and we believe our unity is critical in sending message to Russia that it will be isolated politically and economically if it proceeds down this path."

Vice President Biden will be meeting with allies in Poland, the Estonians, Lithuania, where he will meet with leaders of Lithuania and Latvia "with a message of strong reassurance and support for NATO allies."

The officials cited evidence that confirms the illegitimacy of the so-called referendum in Crimea yesterday.

"There is broad speculation and some concrete evidence that ballots that had arrived in Crimea had been pre-marked in many cities. There were massive anomalies in the vote as recorded - if you believe the figures, based on the census, 123% of the population of Simferopol [the capital of Crimea], would have had to have voted yes for referendum."

Also, 96.8% of those who cast supported secession; turnout was 83.1%; the election commission didn't receive single complaint; and 99% of Ukrainian Tatars declined to vote.

"Even as we exact costs on Russia for what already done and make clear there will be further costs if Russia takes further steps whether political (like annexing territory) or military (like incursion into east or south or further efforts to seize territory, we are also continuing to keep the door open a dialog with Russia senior officials about what that might look like were they willing to make serious efforts to address serious concerns diplomatically or politically, were they willing to pull back and restore sovereignty to Ukraine.

"We are moving forward with political and economic support for the Ukrainian government and people - continued negotiations on the IMF [International Monetary Fund] package, support through OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation] broad monitoring operations to provide independent witness to deter provocation in cities, demobilization of regulars and police retraining and investigate some of the violent incidents of the past, and support presidential elections scheduled for May 25. We expect one of the largest OSCE monitoring operations for those elections."

The officials noted that Russia is already paying a price for its actions: since February 20, when the crisis began, through today, the Russian stock market has declined 14.7%; the ruble has depreciated 3% against the dollar.

"We expect sanctions will be effective on a number of levels: individuals who are designated today, both under the new EO and preexisting, are seeing all their assets frozen, no US person can do business with them; that will have impact on some or all of these individuals...People who we designate tend to find great difficulty in accessing financial services elsewhere in the world, particularly Europe and the Gulf - or Asia for that matter.

"The actions we are taking today have an impact on making clear we are imposing real costs on the Russians and the Russian economy for the actions that have occurred, and are a clear deterrence for actions that may be contemplated."

President Vladimir Putin is not one of the individuals designated for sanction. "It is a highly unusual and rather extraordinary case for US to sanction a head of state of another country," an official explained. "So we do not begin these sanctions with a head of state, but if you look at the list, clearly these are people very close to Putin, who provide him with a lot of advice, support and are responsible for the implementation of the policies we have seen in Crimea. There is no question that this hits close to home.

"The ability to sanction cronies who provide support to the Russian government gets at individuals who have dedicated significant resources to supporting Putin and the policies of the Russian government in the past. It sends a clear message we will hold those responsible accountable for actions of the Russian government.

"If you look at the list of Russians sanctioned here, they are the key ideologists, implementers and architects of the policy and are the key players, politically, in Russia in terms of advocating tightening of human rights and individual liberties within Russia itself," an official said. "A large number of the seven are personally close to the Kremlin and Putin and have worked directly to implement the more draconian polices in Russia and beyond."

"If the Russians continue to move forward, we will continue to designate individuals and pursue sanctions and contemplate additional actions."

As for the likely possibility that Russia will retaliate with reciprocal sanctions - possibly affecting the Iran nuclear talks, the Syria's removal of chemical weapons, an official said, "Clearly there will be a cost to Russia's bilateral relationship -we have canceled trade and commercial discussions, bilateral military exercises, the G-8 preparatory meetings, but the scope of other issues, on Syrian chemical weapons, for example, Russia is deeply vested in that project - in fact, we have seen the pace of removal of chemical weapons picking up - and on Iran, Russia would only be further isolating itself if it would cease participation and has its own interest in a non-nuclear Iran, as well as a profound interest in gaining access to European markets.

"So while we expect [sanctions] to impact our bilateral relationship, Russia has its own interest in participation.

"In terms of retaliation, we seen this in the past - we are confident we can impose costs on Russia and that it is necessary to do so, and frankly Russia stands a lot more to lose from political and economic isolation than the US. This is borne out by economic indicators -a plummeting stock market and depreciating currency - and the fact the world is with us. In the UN Security Council, 13 countries voted to declare the referendum illegal, and China took the unusual action of abstaining - so in terms of who is isolated, the US is leading the international community in condemning, while Russia finds itself alone in insisting on legitimacy of its action."

But, the official noted, the US has offered an alternative to resolve the crisis.

"President Obama has broadly indicated he would impose additional costs while also making clear that there is a pathway to de-escalation. For example, allowing international monitors into Ukraine including Crimea to make sure Russian interests protected; Ukraine has election planned for spring and Ukrainian government has indicated its willingness to look at constitutional reform, including Crimea. This would be a pathway, but only if Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity is respected."

Asked about diplomatic negotiations that would turn Ukraine into a federated republic as a means of giving autonomy to Crimea and other sections of Ukraine, the official said, "The fundamental point is that government in Kyiv has to be a part of discussion and so far Russian government has not engaged constructively.

"The days are long past when world powers meet and make decisions about the future of democratic countries over the heads of the leaders of those countries. The Ukrainian government has made clear they are open to constitutional reform, election coming this spring which provides the basis for Ukrainian people making decision and as part of process of reform, willing to contemplate questions regarding autonomy of regions like Crimea, so there is space for diplomatic discussion. That is key point with Russia: you have a government in Kyiv willing to address these issues, and that should provide the basis for de-escalation, but that should not take place in climate of Russian incursion. Russia needs to withdraw so there can be a diplomatic process."

The official noted that the vast majority of items on Russia's list are already underway in Ukraine under the auspices of the transitional government (which further makes its incursion and the referendum unnecessary and illegitimate) - Russia is calling for Constitutional reform, and on March 4, the Ukrainian government established a temporary special commission to amend the Ukraine constitution by April 15.

That commission is now formed, and includes representatives from every party and every region in Ukraine. The commission is "working on a set of amendments to address everything from minority rights, power to region, enhance autonomy to Crimea - so there is a way to legitimate devolution of power, legitimate autonomy for Crimea, protection of ethnic minorities and languages through a Ukrainian process that has drawn support.

"Going forward, we can calibrate our response based on whether Russia chooses to escalate or to de-escalate the situation," President Obama stated in announcing the expanded sanctions. "Now, I believe there’s still a path to resolve this situation diplomatically in a way that addresses the interest of both Russia and Ukraine. That includes Russia pulling its forces in Crimea back to their bases, supporting the deployment of additional international monitors in Ukraine, and engaging in dialogue with the Ukrainian government, which has indicated its openness to pursuing constitutional reform as they move forward towards elections this spring.

"But throughout this process, we’re going to stand firm in our unwavering support for Ukraine. As I told Prime Minister Yatsenyuk last week, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine and their right to determine their own destiny. We’re going to keep working with Congress and our international partners to offer Ukraine the economic support that it needs to weather this crisis and to improve the daily lives of the Ukrainian people," Obama stated.

The individuals singled out for sanction by the US include:

Vladislav Surkov: Surkov is being sanctioned for his status as a Presidential Aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sergey Glazyev: Glazyev is being sanctioned for his status as a Presidential Adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Leonid Slutsky: Slutsky is being sanctioned for his status as a State Duma deputy, where he is Chairman of the Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration, and Relations with Compatriots.

Andrei Klishas: Klishas is being sanctioned for his status as a Member of the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and as Chairman of the Federation Council Committee of Constitutional Law, Judicial, and Legal Affairs, and the Development of Civil Society.

Valentina Matviyenko: Matviyenko is being sanctioned for her status as Head of the Federation Council

Dmitry Rogozin: Rogozin is being sanctioned for his status as the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Yelena Mizulina: Mizulina is being sanctioned for her status as a State Duma Deputy.

Sergey Aksyonov: Aksyonov is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes. Aksyonov claims to be the Prime Minister of Crimea and has rejected the authority of the legitimate government in Kyiv.

Vladimir Konstantinov: Konstantinov is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes. Konstantinov is the speaker of the Crimean parliament, which on March 11, 2014, declared independence from Ukraine.

Viktor Medvedchuk: Medvedchuk, leader of Ukrainian Choice, is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes. He is also being designated because he has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support to Yanukovych and because he is a leader of an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine and actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Viktor Yanukovych: Former Ukrainian President Yanukovych is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes. After abandoning Kyiv and ultimately fleeing to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych called upon Russian President Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops into Ukraine.

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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