WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama threatened sanctions against Moscow’s defense sector Thursday upon announcing the American government would punish 16 individuals in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The response comes as Russian troops continue operating in the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow plans to formally annex later this week.
“I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions not just on individuals, but on key sectors of the Russian economy,” Obama said. “This is not our preferred outcome. These sanctions would not only have a significant impact on the Russian economy, but could also be disruptive to the global economy; however, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community.”
US officials say they are concerned about continued Russian military movements that could threaten southern and eastern Ukraine.
“It would be a substantial escalation for Russia to move into southern and eastern Ukraine,” one senior administration official said.
The sanctions against the Russian individuals on Thursday come in addition to penalties imposed earlier this month.
Administration officials said they have no plans to send US forces to Ukraine, but are in talks with Kiev about ways to address immediate needs.
“We have also considered what types of support we could provide to the Ukrainians, and the Pentagon has been reviewing that on a regular basis and has indicated that there are certain types of non-lethal support, for instance, that we are providing,” the official said. “And that’s something that we’ll continue to review going forward based on how this situation evolves.”
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone with Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh on Wednesday. Hagel “reiterated that he appreciated the restraint exhibited by Ukrainian Armed Forces and expressed his condolences for the death of the Ukrainian soldier,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
Administration officials say the US is trying to avoid a war between Russia and Ukraine.
[W]e will consider on an ongoing basis these requests from the Ukrainian military,” the official said. “That involves our consultations with them about how they’re viewing the situation.”
In addition to defense, the executive order signed by Obama could allow the US Treasury Department to target Russia’s financial services, energy, mining and engineering sectors, according to administration officials.
“We are now looking and thinking about ways we could actually operationalize this executive order, should we decide to do it in response to continued or escalated Russian aggression,” a second senior administration official said.■