By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
President Obama says the United States, working closely with European allies, is imposing more sanctions on senior Russian officials and others for their involvement in the Crimean crisis in Ukraine.
“Over the last several days, we’ve continued to be deeply concerned by events in Ukraine,” Obama said at a March 20 White House press briefing. “We’ve seen an illegal referendum in Crimea, an illegitimate move by the Russians to annex Crimea, and dangerous risks of escalation, including threats to Ukrainian personnel in Crimea and threats to southern and eastern Ukraine as well.”
“We’re taking these steps as part of our response to what Russia has already done in Crimea,” Obama said. “At the same time, the world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions.”
The United States expanded sanctions that target 20 individuals inside and outside the government, and a private Russian bank, Bank Rossiya, because of their involvement or direct support in the Crimean crisis. The latest round of penalties follows the first set of sanctions levied March 17 against 11 high-ranking Russian and Crimean officials.
In a March 16 referendum that was illegal under the Ukrainian Constitution, Crimean officials reported overwhelming approval of breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is completing annexation of the Crimean Peninsula despite objections from Ukraine, the European community and the United States.
“We’ve been working closely with our European partners to develop more severe actions that could be taken if Russia continues to escalate the situation,” Obama said.
Obama warned Russia that he has signed a new executive order that gives the United States the authority to impose greater penalties not just on individual Russian officials but also on key sectors of the Russian economy. Obama acknowledged that additional sanctions would have a significant negative impact on the Russian economy, and also could be disruptive to the global economy.
“However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community,” Obama said.
The president also reinforced a message Vice President Biden delivered to Polish and Baltic leaders over the past two days of America’s unwavering support for the NATO alliance. Obama said the 28 members of the alliance are bound to one another by an “Article 5 commitment to defend one another, and by a set of shared values.”
The United States has already announced increased support for Eastern European allies, and will continue to strengthen NATO’s collective defense, Obama said. “We will step up our cooperation with Europe on economic and energy issues as well,” he added.