Obama Ratchets Up Sanctions Against Putin's Personal Allies
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The Ukrainian government ordered its border guards to withdraw from Crimea today. Pro-Russian forces there seized more Ukrainian property, including at least two warships. We have more details on those events elsewhere in the program.
Meantime, in Moscow today, the foreign minister complained that ethnic Russians outside Crimea and eastern Ukraine are having their rights violated. Some observers worry that could provide a pretext for further Russian incursions. The Obama administration hopes to discourage that with a new round of economic sanctions. That story now from NPR's Scott Horsley.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama is trying to ratchet up the economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Today, Obama announced the U.S. government is freezing the assets of 20 more Russian individuals, including Putin's chief of staff, his personal banker, and two brothers who received billions of dollars in contracts for the Sochi Olympic Games. The new sanctions come in retaliation for Russia's decision to annex the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, a move that Obama calls a violation of international law.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Russian people need to know, and Mr. Putin needs to understand that the Ukrainians shouldn't have to choose between the West and Russia. We want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny and to have good relations with the United States, with Russia, with Europe, with anyone that that they choose.
HORSLEY: The U.S. also announced sanctions today against a Russian bank where Putin and other senior Russian officials keep their personal accounts. The moves are designed to make it hard for the targeted officials to do business anywhere outside of Russia. While U.S. officials say they're not finished adding names to the sanction list, the concern is that Russia's military moves are not finished either.
Obama said the world is watching with grave concern as Russia positions its troops in a way that suggests further incursions into eastern and southern Ukraine. If that were to happen, Obama has already authorized economic sanctions against whole sectors of the Russian economy, including financial services, the defense industry, and the highly lucrative energy business.
OBAMA: 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.
HORSLEY: Obama says the U.S. is coordinating sanctions with its European allies. So far, though, there's no evidence the economic penalties have caused Putin to rethink his approach. Andrew Kuchins, who directs the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thinks Putin's territorial ambitions are bigger than just Crimea.
ANDREW KUCHINS: I didn't see anything there that would suggest that he would stop, and that's a really, really dangerous position to be in because he is a very, very formidable adversary.
HORSLEY: As the tit for tat continues, Russia ordered its own symbolic sanctions today against a handful of U.S. government officials, including top lawmakers and White House aides. Several of the targets say they consider the sanctions a badge of honor for standing up to Vladimir Putin. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.