The United States levied new sanctions on Monday on seven Russian government officials, as well as 17 companies with links to Vladimir Putin’s close associates, as the Obama administration seeks to pressure the Russian leader to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine.
The new penalties were a response to what U.S. officials say is Russia’s failure to live up to commitments it agreed to under an international accord aimed at ending the dispute. The White House says Russia’s involvement in the recent violence in eastern Ukraine is indisputable and warned that the U.S. and its partners were prepared to impose deeper penalties if Russia’s provocations continue.
President Barack Obama announced the sanctions while traveling in the Philippines, the last stop on a weeklong trip to Asia. He said that while his goal was not to target Putin personally, he was seeking to “change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he’s engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul.”
The U.S. sanctions are expected to be followed closely by new penalties from the European Union. Diplomats from the 28-nation bloc were meeting Monday in Brussels and were expected to slap visa bans and asset freezes on 15 individuals.
Among the targets of the new sanctions is Igor Sechin, the president of state oil company Rosneft, who has worked for Putin since the early 1990s. Sechin was seen as the mastermind behind the 2003 legal assault on private oil company Yukos and its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who at the time was Russia’s richest man. The most lucrative parts of Yukos were taken over by Rosneft, making it Russia’s largest company. Rosneft has a major partnership deal with ExxonMobil.
In addition to the new sanctions, the U.S. is adding new restrictions on high-tech materials used by Russia’s defense industry that could help bolster Moscow’s military.
Even with the new measures, Obama voiced pessimism about whether they would be enough to change Putin’s calculus. “We don’t yet know whether it’s going to work,” he said.
Also on the list of those sanctioned by the U.S. Monday are Aleksei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected head of Russian parliament’s lower house, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, and Sergei Chemezov, another longtime Putin ally. The White House said Putin has known Chemezov, CEO of the state-owned holding company Rostec, since the 1980s, when they both lived in the same apartment building in East Germany.
The company-specific sanctions will affect entities like Transoil, a freight rail operator, and other infrastructure companies involved in electrical and gas pipeline construction. The U.S. also sanctioned two entities it alleges are owned or controlled by Bank Rossiya, which is owned by members of Putin’s inner circle.
Neither the U.S. nor Europe plans to announce broader sanctions on Russia’s key industries this week, though Obama said they were keeping those measures “in reserve” in case the situation worsens and Russia launches a full military incursion into eastern Ukraine. Among the targets of those so-called sector sanctions could be Russia’s banking, defense and energy industries.