News / Europe

Obama Expands Sanctions Against Russia

President Barack Obama makes a statement on Ukraine, March 20, 2014, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington.
President Barack Obama makes a statement on Ukraine, March 20, 2014, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington.
VOA News
U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Thursday morning a series of expanded sanctions against Russia over its annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House before a trip to Florida, Obama said the U.S. will impose more sanctions on Russian government officials, including individuals tied to Russia's Crimea efforts, and Bank Rossiya, which handles financial transactions for many in the Russian leadership elite.

Obama Announces Expansion of Sanctions Against Russiai
X
VOA News
March 20, 2014 3:47 PM
President Barack Obama's statement follows EU announcement of further sanctions against Russia following Crimea referendum.
VIDEO: President Obama's statement (Click to enlarge)
​"Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community," Obama said, adding that sanctions will possibly be expanded to impact more areas of the Russian economy.

"Over the last several days, we've continued to be deeply concerned by events in Ukraine,'' Obama said, citing what he called an illegal referendum in Crimea, an illegitimate move to annex the territory Crimea, and "dangerous risks of escalation, including threats" to Ukraine. He cited threats Russia has made to the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.

"These are all choices that the Russian government has made, choices that have been rejected by the international community as well as the government of Ukraine," Obama added.

Washington on Monday announced a first round of sanctions against eleven people, including seven Russians, it said were involved with the Crimean annexation.

In Brussels, meanwhile, European Union leaders added 12 people - all Russian or Crimean - to a list of those subject to travel bans and asset freezes.  The new names were not immediately released, but the move raises the number of people subject to EU sanctions to 33.


Russia hits back

Almost immediately after Obama’s announcement, Russia retaliated with "reciprocal sanctions," warning the West it would hit back over “every hostile thrust.”

The sanctions, according to a Foreign Ministry statement, appear to be travel restrictions imposed on senior U.S. officials and lawmakers.

Among those barred from Russia are Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes, senators John McCain, Daniel Coats, Mary Landrieu, Robert Menendez and Harry Reid, as well as House Speaker John Boehner, the Foreign Ministry said.

Reacting to the sanctions, Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement:

"[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin's military invasion and annexation of Crimea is brutal, totally unacceptable, and sadly returns us to a period of Cold War aggression and hostility. It doesn't have to be this way, but if standing up for the Ukrainian people, their freedom, their hard earned democracy, and sovereignty means I'm sanctioned by Putin, so be it."

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that “the decision on the reunification of Crimea and Russia is not subject to review.”

EU mulls expanding sanctions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her nation's parliament Thursday the EU is prepared to move to "Level 3" measures, which would include economic sanctions, if the situation worsens.

The EU has already imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials deemed responsible for the incursion into Crimea.

Merkel said the Group of Eight forum of leading economies is effectively suspended as long as the diplomatic standoff with Russia continues. Russia has been part of the G-8, along with Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

  • Armed Russian sailors walk near the Ukrainian ship Slavutich in Sevastopol, March 20, 2014.
  • The Ukrainian ship Slavutich is seen blocked by two Russian ships at the harbor in Sevastopol, March 20, 2014.
  • A Ukrainian soldier closes an entrance gate at the air force base in the Crimean town of Belbek, March 20, 2014.
  • Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand guard at the top of a chimney located near the naval headquarters, with Russian flags installed nearby, in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014.
  • Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk on the territory of the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 19, 2014.
  • A Ukrainian naval officer carries his belongings as he walks out of the territory of the naval headquarters, with armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, seen nearby, in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014.
  • Members of Crimean self-defense units walk in formation while leaving the territory of the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014.
  • Workers put up a new sign reading "State Council of the Crimean Republic" at the parliament building in Simferopol, March 19, 2014.
  • Workers remove old letters from the Crimea parliament building in Simferopol, March 18, 2014.
  • Pro-Russian people watch a live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech on Crimea in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 18, 2014.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said tensions between Ukraine and Russia pose “great risks to the countries themselves and beyond” and urged restraint by all parties.

Speaking after a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ban said he “emphasized that all parties [should] refrain from any hasty or provocative actions that could further exacerbate the already very tense and very volatile situation.”

On Friday, Ban is expected to meet with Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv.

Russian Duma approves Crimea annexation

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a treaty to annex Crimea from Ukraine, taking the Black Sea peninsula a step closer to joining the Russian Federation.

The Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s legislature, is expected to hold a similar vote on Friday, completing ratification of a treaty that President Vladimir Putin signed with Moscow-backed Crimean leaders Tuesday.

“I am certain the passage of these documents will be a turning point in the fate of the multi-ethnic peoples of Crimea and Russia, who are linked by the close ties of historical solidarity,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Duma after presenting the treaty to the chamber.

“The unification of these peoples in one state will promote the well-being and prosperity and serve the interests of Russia,” Lavrov added.

Earlier Thursday, Lavrov blamed the crisis on the West, without specifically mentioning the United States.

He said Western nations were trying to “preserve their global leadership and display their exceptionalism rather than striving to be guided by international law.”

Crimea, with an ethnic Russian majority, voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia in a controversial referendum Sunday that the U.S. and European Union have declared illegal.

Ukraine PM warns of Russia’s designs

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to destabilize Ukraine's presidential election in May and has been preparing for possible military action in eastern Ukraine, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

In an interview with Reuters, Yatsenyuk, 39, said Putin wants to extend his hold on Ukraine outside the Crimean peninsula into other areas where the majority of the country's Russian speakers live.

FILE - Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy YatsenyukFILE - Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
x
FILE - Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
FILE - Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
“We have clear proof and evidence [that] Russian agencies hired a number of so-called protesters - or actually gangsters - with the task to trigger another cycle of violence in southern and eastern Ukraine,” he said.

Such moves would be part of a plan by Putin, he said, to spark “provocations... and send his military to defend the Russian-speaking minority there.”

Putin has dismissed such suggestions.
          
Yatsenyuk said that to further undermine Ukraine, Putin will try to challenge the validity of the country's presidential election set for May 25.

Western governments hope that vote will help cement political change in Ukraine, but Yatsenyuk said Putin might try to trigger violent clashes to cast doubt on the result.

“Russia wants to cancel the presidential election, divide Ukraine, and the ultimate goal of Russia is to eliminate Ukrainian independence,” Yatsenyuk added.

Ukraine begins drawing back forces

In Crimea, Russia Trumps Ukraine, NATOi
X
Al Pessin
March 20, 2014 8:03 PM
Russian troops and their local allies in Crimea have increased pressure on Ukraine’s military since Russia moved to annex the region - and there has been nothing Ukrainian or Western forces could do about it. From London, VOA’s Al Pessin reports on the military situation in eastern Ukraine and its strategic implications.
In Crimea, Russia Trumps Ukraine, NATO
Ukrainian border guards stationed in Crimea, now under the control of Russia's military, have started redeploying to regions on the mainland, a senior official said on Thursday.

Also about 1,000 civilians have so far left the peninsula, said Pavlo Shysholin, deputy head of the state border guard service, at a news conference.

Plans to evacuate Ukraine's outnumbered military personnel from the Crimean peninsula were announced yesterday by the country's security chief.

Andriy Parubiy - secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council - said Kyiv will seek United Nations support in turning the peninsula into a demilitarized zone. He also said Ukraine is planning to hold military maneuvers "with our allies," but did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said Thursday Moscow will bolster its "military infrastructure" in Crimea to ensure the peninsula is "a worthy representative of the Russian Federation" and "protected against all possible encroachments."

Russia is already handing out passports to Crimea residents.

EU cracks open door for Ukrainian goods

Influential European lawmakers backed a package of nearly 500 million euros ($695 million) in annual trade benefits for Ukraine Thursday, opening the way for duty-free Ukrainian exports into EU countries beginning late April.

Brussels is giving Ukraine unfettered access to the 28-nation bloc's 500 million consumers even before a proposed bilateral free-trade accord comes into force later this year to cement Kyiv's historic shift away from Russia.

The deal was approved by the European Parliament's International Trade Committee. The full European Parliament is due to sign off on the EU's unilateral measures in mid-April.

The move is as an important step to revive the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which ousted president Viktor Yanukovych rejected in November in favor of financial backing from Moscow.

EU leaders and Ukraine's prime minister are expected sign the political part of the agreement at a two-day summit in Brussels beginning Thursday.

Some reporting by Reuters



You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs