Obama Says New Sanctions on Russia Will Have ‘An Even Bigger Bite’

“Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says,” the president said Tuesday at the White House while announcing new sanctions.

National Journal
Marina Koren and Matt Berman
July 29, 2014, 12:04 p.m.

This time last week, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was send­ing not-so-subtle hints to Europe, per­suad­ing the con­tin­ent’s lead­ers to re­act to con­tin­ued Rus­si­an ag­gres­sion in Ukraine.

On Tues­day, Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced that he and the lead­ers of Bri­tain, France, Ger­many, and Italy would im­pose sanc­tions on key sec­tors of the Rus­si­an eco­nomy. For Europe, these meas­ures are the strict­est since the Ukraine crisis began in March.

The U.S. sanc­tions tar­get sev­er­al banks and de­fense firms, as well as ex­ports to and in­vest­ments in Rus­si­an en­ergy com­pan­ies. The European meas­ures tar­get fin­an­cial and en­ergy sec­tors, and block arms ex­ports to Rus­sia.

“Be­cause we’re closely co­ordin­at­ing our ac­tions with Europe, the sanc­tions we’re an­noun­cing today will have an even big­ger bite,” Obama said.

Earli­er rounds of U.S. sanc­tions have proved in­ef­fect­ive without European sup­port. The White House has been try­ing for months to per­suade Europe to im­pose high­er costs on Rus­si­an ag­gres­sion in Ukraine. The down­ing of Malay­sia Air­lines Flight 17, which killed 298 ci­vil­ians, ap­peared to have gal­van­ized the re­ac­tion it wanted. After months of cri­ti­cism stateside for not tak­ing a stronger stance against Rus­sia, Obama seems to have got­ten a win with these tan­dem sanc­tions.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion after his state­ment, Obama de­clined to say that the U.S. and Rus­sia are in a new cold war.

“It’s not a new cold war,” he said. “What it is, is a very spe­cif­ic is­sue re­lated to Rus­sia’s un­will­ing­ness to re­cog­nize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”

Rus­sia, he said, is re­spons­ible for the con­tin­ued civil un­rest in East­ern Ukraine. “It didn’t have to come to this. It does not have to be this way,” Obama said. “This is a choice that Rus­sia and Pres­id­ent Putin in par­tic­u­lar has made.” Over the week­end, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased aer­i­al pho­tos that it said showed that Rus­si­an troops on their side of the bor­der had re­cently fired ar­til­lery rounds in­to Ukraine.

The pres­id­ent also placed the new sanc­tions in the broad­er con­text of Amer­ica’s role in the world. “Today is a re­mind­er that the United States means what it says and we will rally the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity in stand­ing up for rights and free­dom around the world,” he said.

Obama did not rule out provid­ing leth­al aid to Ukraine when asked if his ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing it, but he did sug­gest that the op­tion is not be­ing con­sidered. “The is­sue is how do we pre­vent blood­shed in east­ern Ukraine? We’re try­ing to avoid that,” he said. “And the main tool that we have to in­flu­ence Rus­si­an be­ha­vi­or at this point is the im­pact that it’s hav­ing on its eco­nomy.”

The U.S. and Europe have joined to­geth­er in a sim­il­ar fash­ion to isol­ate Putin be­fore, when West­ern na­tions cut Rus­sia out of vari­ous mul­ti­lat­er­al or­gan­iz­a­tions and meet­ings. But Putin feels most com­fort­able when he’s cornered. Re­call that in March, a day after the U.S. an­nounced its second round of sanc­tions against Rus­sia, Putin an­nexed the Ukrain­i­an pen­in­sula of Crimea. If Rus­sia’s past be­ha­vi­or in Ukraine is in­dic­at­ive of what’s to come, in­ter­na­tion­al pres­sure won’t stop Putin from tak­ing ac­tion.

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