Sanctions on Russia fly

| Monday, March 17, 2014, 9:15 p.m.

MOSCOW — The international crisis over Ukraine escalated sharply on Monday as the United States and Europe imposed sanctions on senior Russian political and military figures, and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin signed a decree recognizing the Ukrainian region of Crimea as an independent state.

Both actions were taken in response to the referendum on Sunday in Crimea, where a reported 97 percent of voters said they wanted to become part of Russia. The Obama administration said the vote was rigged and discounted it as illegal.

Putin's decree, announced on the Kremlin website, was widely seen as a step toward the annexation of Crimea by Russia, a move that U.S. and European leaders have said would result in further punishment designed to cripple Russia's economy.

What has become the most serious U.S.-Russia confrontation in decades showed no sign of abating, and there was little indication that ongoing diplomatic efforts would succeed in finding a resolution.

Beyond Crimea, Putin has defied Western demands that he stop military exercises on Ukraine's eastern and southern borders, end what the West has called destabilizing actions by pro-Russian provocateurs in Ukrainian cities and open negotiations with Ukraine's interim government.

The West increasingly thinks Putin's actions in Crimea are part of a larger plan to impose his will on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic whose pro-Russian president fled the country last month in the aftermath of demonstrations in favor of joining the European Union.

“Further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia,” President Obama said in a statement announcing sanctions against seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials. The goals, Obama said, are “to isolate Russia for its actions, and to reassure our allies and partners” of American support.

The sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans on some of Putin's closest aides. The European Union separately announced sanctions on 21 individuals, including several Russian military commanders. The European list did not include Kremlin aides.

A senior administration official said the White House would not respond to Putin's decree recognizing Crimea as independent from Ukraine. Putin has scheduled a speech to the Russian parliament Tuesday morning.

Eastern European nations bordering Russia and Ukraine have been especially alarmed by the Russian moves. America has sent military assets to Poland and Lithuania, and Vice President Joe Biden is being dispatched to those countries to offer reassurance.

“These are by far the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the Cold War,” a second administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Far and away so.”

The seven Russians initially targeted include top Putin aides Sergey Glazyev and Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, and leaders of parliament who have been outspoken in advocating Crimean annexation and belligerent policies toward Ukraine.

Under the sanctions, one U.S. official said, “all assets are frozen, no U.S. person can do business with them. ... If they want to transact in dollars, for example, they will be unable to do so.”

After the announcement, some of the targeted Russians mocked the move.

“I quite like the company I have found myself in,” Andrei Klishas, chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Constitutional Legislation Committee, told the Interfax news service.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized the administration's measures as insufficient. Sen. John McCain of Arizona called for “a far more significant response,” saying that sanctioning seven Russians “is wholly inadequate at this stage.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas described U.S. policy toward Russia as “appeasement” and called for an expanded American military presence in Eastern Europe.

The EU announcement included asset freezes and travel bans on eight Crimeans, among them a Ukrainian naval commander who pledged allegiance to Crimea in the days before the referendum, and 13 Russians, including the commanders of the Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet and Russia's western and southern military districts.

The EU and U.S. lists have just four names in common: two top Crimean leaders who were instrumental in the drive for secession and two Russian legislators.

Some European officials said there would be more penalties imposed within days.

Still, EU heavyweights such as Germany and Britain have deep economic ties to Russia, and officials have spent days wrangling over whether the sanctions should hit at Putin's inner circle.

Anatol Lieven, a professor of international relations at King's College London, said the sanctions were highly unlikely to influence Putin's moves in Crimea and were instead aimed at the next flash point: eastern Ukraine.

“Crimea is lost. In practice, there's no way that Ukraine is ever going to get it back,” Lieven said. “The question now, and it's a vastly greater strategic question, is what happens in eastern Ukraine.”

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