Sanctions against Russia for Ukraine actions working – and more may be on the way
April 16th, 2014
10:05 PM ET
4 months ago

Sanctions against Russia for Ukraine actions working – and more may be on the way

(CNN) – Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said Wednesday in a detailed defense and explanation of the U.S. response to the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

And new sanctions could be imposed as early as Friday, with key Putin allies, institutions and top oligarchs among the targets, other senior administration officials said.

Obama told CBS News Wednesday that the current sanctions are hurting Russia’s economy and will have negative long-term consequences.

“What I’ve said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences,” he said. “And what you’ve already seen is the Russian economy weaker, capital fleeing out of Russia. Mr. Putin’s decisions are not just bad for Ukraine, over the long term, they’re going to be bad for Russia.”

Senior administration officials are in Brussels coordinating the rollout of the new sanctions with European allies. All parties are waiting for the results of talks set for Thursday involving Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union. Secretary of State John Kerry is representing the United States in those talks in Geneva. Expectations for a breakthrough at the talks are low.

White House officials now say that sectoral sanctions – those that cut off a portion of the Russian economy - will not be enacted unless Russia attempts a full-on invasion of Ukraine. Last month, Obama signed an executive order giving the United States the power to impose such sanctions.

Administration outlines state of play in Ukraine

During meeting with journalists Wednesday, senior administration officials laid out their analysis of the militants in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinking and what might be next.

The groups of heavily armed, highly coordinated militants who have stormed government buildings and caused violent unrest in cities and towns across eastern Ukraine are viewed by the United States as still very small - for example, a hundred or a thousand people within a city of more than a million - and not at all reflective of the desires of the vast majority of the population there.

When asked why the United States won’t provide arms to Ukraine to assist in quickly quashing the Russia-backed elements, U.S. officials said they don’t want to risk a violent escalation or start a proxy war with Russia. The White House lauds the restraint that Ukraine itself has employed. And the administration has dismissed Putin’s claims that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war.

Obama said that Putin doesn’t want a military conflict, either, and emphasized that Ukraine should determine its relationships with other countries.

“They’re not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians. We don’t need a war,” he said. “What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with a whole range of their neighbors and it is not up to anybody, whether it’s Russia or the United States or anybody else, to make decisions for them.”

The senior administration officials elaborated on their view of Putin’s mindset: The takeover of Crimea wasn’t planned, but Putin took advantage of Ukraine’s instability after the ousting of its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. They believe Putin positioned some 40,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border to keep exploiting Ukraine’s vulnerabilities and to see what he might get away with. The move also provides an option to invade.

The White House believes Putin was truly surprised by the international reaction to Crimea because of previous inaction after other incidents, such as Russia’s movements into Georgia. Ultimately, they believe that Putin wants to establish a sphere of direct influence to control Ukraine’s foreign and economic policy.

Senior officials say Putin has deeply wanted two things: broader international influence and an expanded Russian economy. But his actions thus far have crushed both of those goals and in fact have pushed Ukraine far closer to alignment with the West and away from Russia. It has even potentially strained Russia’s relationship with China. In addition, Crimea, which is enormously expensive to maintain, will now bring far more burden to Russia than benefit.

The senior administration officials believe that Putin keeps initiating contact with Obama and other world leaders to show the world that he still has the ability to engage and to appear reasonable. He is also calibrating his moves to see how far he can go.

The officials said they want to keep that window of diplomacy open in continued hopes of de-escalation, even though they now say they have very little confidence that a reduction of tension will come via Thursday’s talks. The White House sees this as a fluid crisis that will evolve for a long time, and in the short term - maybe even the medium term or long term—Crimea will effectively be Russia’s.


Filed under: Obama administration • Russia • Ukraine • Vladimir Putin
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Ivo

    Are these USA officials..out of their minds?
    They are now just showing to the whole world...how sad is their empire.

    April 16, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  2. sausagefrenzy

    Nice work America- give sanctions to a country that is supporting democracy, whilst you prop up a fascist coup in Kiev that is trying to destroy its political opponents in the east.
    You couldn't make this hypocrisy up.
    Putin wins. US looks ridiculous.

    April 16, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  3. A Kickin` Donkey

    Shouldn`t Germany, Italy, the UK, the Chechs, Poland, Turkey, etc. all be chiding Russia for not addressing the so-called "threat to Russian speakers inside Ukraine" by allowing those highly loved and desired people to IMMIGRATE to the wonderful bossom and sanctuary of Russia PROPER? Putin should recieve a civics/ democracy lesson on how to facilitate rapid embrace of these refugees that they claim need to be protected. Steal Ukrainian land and assets in Crimea is not the way the world finds acceptible.

    Time to ammend the UN Charter with a conflict of interest clause for permenant members [with veto power] on the security council. The rest of the UN should be able to order action without Russia vetoing it. If Russian can`t convince some other country to stand up for its position then the position must be pretty weak.

    April 16, 2014 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  4. Steve

    Why should there be sanctions at all. For allowing/wanting a country to self determine it own future? For not letting US/EU/NATO just run amok, and do whatever they want, in the name of freedom and democracy.

    April 16, 2014 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  5. Gene-nius

    Way to go, people! Russian economy may be hurt, of course, or rather the welfare of certain oligarkhs who don't really have love of the public, but European economy will also be hit severely. Prime-minister of Cyprus said that the nation's economy will collapse because of sanctions against Russia. But hatred towards my country is so great that the West will take down whole countries, however small they may be, to "punish" Russia.
    We have a saying – do not defecate where you take your meals (mild version). The West seems to be doing just that.

    April 16, 2014 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  6. Dafgat

    I live in Rostov-on-Don. The large city near the Ukranian border. I have a country house. He's situated is about 8 miles from Ukranian border. And this is funny but I am still have not saw any tank or any soldier. In fact the Passport Control Point on the main road between our countries is filled with armed Ukranian soldiers from they side and frontier sentry with rubber sticks from our side.

    April 16, 2014 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  7. Frank

    I really wished these sanctions truly worked – but these have no teeth and any hype that they are is just a bunch of bull.

    There needs to be real consequences for the actions by Russia.

    That said, I am not 100% convinced that there should not be 2 separate countries as there seems to be a true ethnic split that has the potential of a civil war without any out side influence.

    But I disagree with those that would add more fuel by sending arms.

    April 16, 2014 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  8. Keith B. Rosenberg

    Odd. I do not see any news that Russia is giving back the Crimea or is stopping its troublesome actions in the Eastern Ukraine where they want a land corridor to the Crimea.

    April 16, 2014 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  9. agasi

    Yes, Putin really surprised by these sanctions from US and EU after Crimea he is laughing at them: at your sanctions and you! I'm russian, i live in Russia and i just know that destabilizing Ukraine is the product of american hands, product of Victoria Nuland and don't talk about Russia is the source of these problems, we just need to react to all circumstances which were made by CIA, to destabilize and hurt the related communications of our two people.Me and 85% of russian citizens support Putin in his actions with Creamia -this is the highest result of democracy when the power does what the people want.

    April 16, 2014 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  10. Nameyain

    I believe the America should stop acting and get over with if puttin is getting sanction how bout this Russia Took cramia right and ukrain has a big deb with Russia lets then have cramia and Seattles that deb that ukrain ows to Russia now stop this conflict cus you nations are making this difficult we su post be in freedom we should explore other worlds stops this we have more better things to wory about then fighting .

    April 16, 2014 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  11. Rudyard Holmbast

    Yeah, those sanctions are working so well, the Russians are now taking over the eastern part of the Ukraine.

    April 16, 2014 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  12. gfmohn

    The mere fact that economic sanctions are hurting doesn't necessarily end the story. It may mean nothing at all. Putin and the Russian people may be ready to pay a heavier economic price than Obama and the rest of the West would like to acknowledge. Russia wouldn't be the first country willing to sacrifice economic goals for the intangible rewards of reuniting lost provinces, rescuing fellow ethnics from at least imagined threats, and so on. The rewards are not all intangible either. The future of the Black Sea fleet has been secured. How much they are willing to sacrifice and how much the oligarchs (who can be assumed to care more about money) are willing to sacrifice is unknowable right now. Much depends on another intangible, Putin's leadership. So far, he is doing well in that area.
    And so far, France has not canceled a multi-billion dollar Russian order for the construction of two huge amphibious assault ships. Although these ships will not be operational for several years, they are present symbols of Russian power projection. France also wants to continue selling advanced air combat radar systems to Russia. As long as France and other Western countries continue business as usual with Russia, Putin and the Russian people are likely to continue to accept the financial losses associated with reestablishing a sphere of influence in the Russian near-abroad. Reassured at least privately by Western governments, foreign investors are likely to return to Russia.

    April 16, 2014 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  13. YoonYoungJo

    Its funny, I like so many others believed the US response to the Ukraine crisis wasn't aggressive enough. But after the latest reports coming out of the Ukraine, the US response has been spot on. Especially with some of the crisis which now seems almost scripted and orchestrated. Obviously which it is, because its a millitary operation. But the one thing that really draws my attention is the unusual casualty report and also the fact more aggression and violence had occurred, at least on Putins side. It does show that Putin is being tentative due to Obama's sanctions and the threat of deeper sanctions. But I cannot see a scenerio where the US gives into any Russian demands that either have nothing to do with the actual crisis, or is of significant economic gain. It would be fair to suggest that a legal ref possibly be held with ALL of the Ukraine voting on whether to succeed from the Ukraine but Tamara about it. And I not just the populace in Crimea voting on the Ref but all of Ukraine since it impacts everyone in the Ukraine. Also the voting cannot take place under any duress or foreign soldiers.

    April 17, 2014 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  14. Jacques

    I could be wrong, but something tells me that the Russians(Putin) aren't shaking in their boots. Oil, being the international trading currency of choice, will enable Russia to circumvent these sanctions. Politics makes strange bedfellows!

    April 17, 2014 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  15. freddie nerk

    This story is fantasy. Obama should watch BBC more to see what us really happening in Ukraine. No one in the East supports Kiev, even its military and police and local leaders defected. Where are the "millions" who support Kiev? Clearly not in Crimea, the East or South. The reality is that Kiev does not represent Ukraine and the US and EU meddling has partitioned the country. The elected government of Ukraine chose the best economic package from Russia. The EU and US immediately funded mobs to topple Yanukovych. Now that it has become a farce, they want to say Russia should be the solution. The US State Department was up to its ears in the organizing of mobs in Kiev. Now they have fascist and anti-Semites in charge, threatening its opposition. I applaud the brave people of Eastern Ukraine. As for sanctions-more capital has fled Japan this year than Russia.And GDP growth for EU is like Russia. And China has sided with Russia, so has India. So it seems the EU and US are not in touch with reality.

    April 17, 2014 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  16. Wes

    I think the uhbama should threaten them with a line in the sand. That will show them.

    April 17, 2014 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  17. Realist

    LOL what hypocrites. Russia spills no blood, stays on its side of the border, in the meantime Ukraines new government is so impotent and distrusted that even the army won't follow its orders, defecting at will.

    Sanctions for what ? For east Ukraine willingly wanting to join Russia ? I don't think so, this is much bigger, theis is about the petrol dollar and the fact that Russia want to organise an oil market where the U.S dollar won't be the only currency in play, losing its primacy. U.S won't be able to export inflation and artificially raise the debt ceiling then.

    April 17, 2014 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  18. Boroma

    The reaction of Obama administration may be prudent in long term. However, instability in Ukraine will have long term regional and global belief in USA leadership in times of military crisis. Russia or one time Cuba's response could not had been the same had it been USA or any other western power that had moved into Ukraine.

    April 17, 2014 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  19. Factsseeker

    It is difficult to know who to believe here. One thing is obvious. It is not the whole world who is supporting the US. China, India, Vietnam are all luke warm at best. It is NATO leaders who support the US. NATO has slowly been encircling Russia with new NATO countries. That must be very provocatve to the Russians. The line was crossed as the loss of Crimea loomed. NATO knew exactly what they were doing. Does NATO want a world war? We do not know how mad these people are. nothing like this has happened since the Cuban missile crisis. Fortunately, Kennedy did not listen to the madmen. He did not bomb Cuba. He chose a blockade instead so Khrushchev could be given time to think things through. Obama is also a Democrat. Hopefully level heads will prevail. Is Putin a good guy ? Hardly. But he has been forcedinto the corner. All we can do is hope that the madmen do not win the argument.

    April 17, 2014 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  20. lloyd

    Well the its highly probabely russia will reclaim all the countries that was once part of its territory. Mere sanction wont repell russia that is wishful thinking. You have cancelled the defence system for europe claiming the cold war is over. I have long conclude that the foreign policy pursued by the current administration, would emboled other state with ambitions as russia to act anabated as the current administration is viewed as weak and indesisive, creating a dangerous atmospher for rouge state are now enboled not only to developed nuclare bomb but to unleacehit. i

    April 17, 2014 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  21. Thomas

    Dose Russia have ranchers on BLM land ?

    Do you think Vladimir Putin is as popular as Colonel Harland Sanders and KFC ?

    What is the tight fondness that Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi have for each other ?

    April 17, 2014 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  22. Anonymous

    Based on what? Where are the facts? Where is the data?

    This article is ridiculous, pure speculation on all fronts.

    April 17, 2014 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  23. Jamie Estevez

    There needs to be sanctions against the criminals in Washington DC, London, Paris, Brussels and Kiev. That's who needs to be sanctioned and dragged into the Hague for war crimes in Yugoslavia, in Libya, in Syria, in Iraq. I am an American and I'm glad Russia is challenging the monstrous Western political/economic/military order that is openly trying for world hegemony. First through banks and corporations and if that doesn't work then through the threat or actual use of military force or the use of proxies as in Syria (and even in Ukraine to oust Yanukovych). I love America. I am an American Nationalist and a Constitutionalist, but I am also a non-interventionist who respects the sovereignty of other nations and I have no love for the IMF or globalist corporations.

    April 17, 2014 02:25 am at 2:25 am |
  24. idiom

    If the sanctions are working, then why are more needed?

    April 17, 2014 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  25. Joe

    These kind of stories are ridiculous from the get-go. The only way sanctions work is if they are 100% across the board, everything, everybody, every transaction, every bank, everything.... EVERYTHING !!!! Otherwise they are stupid....

    April 17, 2014 02:40 am at 2:40 am |
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