Unsuccessful with previous threats, the United States and its European allies stepped up their pressure on Russia to end its intervention in Ukraine on Monday by imposing the most comprehensive sanctions against Russian officials since the Cold War.
Acting in concert with Europe, the Obama administration froze the U.S. assets of seven Russian officials, including top advisers to President Vladimir Putin, for their support of Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine, while similar sanctions were imposed on four Ukrainian officials for instigating Sunday’s Crimean referendum.
Although the threat of sanctions has failed thus far to persuade Putin to drop support for Crimea’s secession and potential entry into the Russian Federation — or to pull back from threatening military moves near Ukraine’s south and east — President Barack Obama said failure to step back now would draw move severe consequences.
“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” Obama declared at the White House shortly after the penalties were announced. He noted that Vice President Joe Biden would be traveling to Europe late Monday to reassure Eastern European leaders of America’s commitment to them and that he himself would be going next week on a previously planned trip to make a similar point. Secretary of State John Kerry also is expected in Europe in the coming days.
But administration critics said Obama’s actions were too little to convince Putin of anything.
“I think Vladimir Putin must be encouraged by the absolute timidity,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had just returned from a weekend trip to Kiev.
Residents in Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula, voted overwhelmingly Sunday in favor of the split. In Washington, Obama administration officials said there was evidence that some ballots for the referendum had arrived pre-marked in many cities and there were “massive anomalies” in the vote. The officials did not say what that evidence was. The officials spoke to reporters on a conference call on the condition they not be quoted by name
The United States, European Union and others say that splitting off Crimea from Ukraine violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law and has taken place under duress from the Russian military. Putin maintains that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination.
The U.S. announcement of sanctions came shortly after the European Union announced travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people the EU has linked to the unrest in Crimea. U.S. officials say there is some overlap between the U.S. list and that of the Europeans, which wasn’t immediately made public.