Obama readies sanctions against Russia - Macleans.ca

Obama readies sanctions against Russia

‘We are considering a whole series of steps,’ president warns Putin

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama said the Russian president faces diplomatic and economic isolation unless he ceases his his violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and vowed to make Russia’s military incursion into the Crimea “a costly proposition for Russia” through sanctions.

“If in fact they continue on the current trajectory they are on, we are considering a whole series of steps – economic and diplomatic – that will isolate Russia and have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its status in the word,” said Obama this afternoon after a meeting in the Oval Office with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Jo Biden were also present.

Potential economic sanctions include freezing assets of Russian individuals, revoking visas for foreign travel, and suspending forms of economic cooperation. Already, the U.S., Canada and other G-7 countries have cancelled their preparations for a G-8 Summit that was to the be held in Sochi, Russia “He is not going to have a Sochi G-8,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday. “He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues.

Obama said today that if Putin is sincerely concerned about the rights of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, he should not send troops into the country, but instead enlist the assistance of monitors from international organizations such as the United Nations or the  Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to ensure “that Russian speakers, Russian nationals are not in any way harmed, abused or discriminated against.”

Obama said he delivered that message personally to Putin in a telephone conversation.

“What cannot be done is for Russia with impunity to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world,” said Obama. “I think that the strong condemnation that it has received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.”

The president also said the U.S. would offer a package of economic assistance to the Ukrainian government which is facing an economic crisis. Kerry is scheduled to travel to Kiev Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian leaders and to offer “specific and concrete packages of economics aid – because one of the things we are worried about is stabilizing the economy in the midst of this crises.”

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Obama also called on the U.S. Congress to make authorization of aid to the Ukraine its “first order of business” when it returns after a snow day this week.“There should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked,” Obama said.

In Kiev, Kerry plans to meet with senior representatives of Ukraine’s new government, leaders of the country’s parliament, and members of civil society, according to the State Department. The Secretary will reaffirm “the United States’ strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without outside interference or provocation.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said sanctions are “likely” unless Russia removes its troops from Crimea. “It is likely that we will put those in place, and we are preparing that right now. So we have a broad range of options available. As you know, we’re looking at the best way to hold people accountable,” she told reporters today.

The U.S. is encouraging Putin to back down before the situation escalates, she said. “President Obama has made clear to President Putin – that even as we reject and condemn the action they have taken, that there is way out of this situation. The way out of this situation is through direct dialogue with the sovereign government of Ukraine, the pull back of forces, the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to make use of the tools of international organizations like the UN, like the OSCE, to address any concerns that anyone may have with regard to the current situation in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, there was debate in Washington among members of the U.S.  Congress about how far or quickly the U.S. should move.

Republican senator John McCain blamed the Obama administration of emboldening Putin as it cut back U.S. military spending, and stood back from other international hotspots such as Syria and the Arab Spring.
“This is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where no one believes in America’s strength any more,” McCain said over the weekend. He said Putin was attempting a “return of the Cold War” and to “restore the Russian empire.”

He reiterated the point today. “What kind of a message are we sending when are slashing our military?” McCain said on CNN today. He called for sanctions against top individuals in the Russian government, and to reinvigorate military cooperation with countries along Russia’s borders. “When people say we can’t do much, I don’t agree,” he said.

Meanwhile, the top Democrat in the senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, struck a more cautious not, saying the U.S. should move slowly and only in concert with the Europeans. Reid said Congress should let the situation play out for “a while” before trying to impose any new sanctions on Russia.

“The most important thing is for us – the United States – to make sure that we don’t go off without the European community,” Reid told Politico. “We have to work with them. Their interests are really paramount if we are going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us.”

With Washington, DC in the grip of a snowstorm Monday, U.S. government offices were closed in the capital, votes were cancelled on Capitol Hill, and most lawmakers stayed home.

In Ottawa, Putin has managed to unite the House of Commons:

The government had shunned opposition parties from its official delegation to Ukraine as that country faces Russian intervention and possible conflict in Crimea. But today, as the western world reacts in haste to Putin’s military intervention, the House stood together.

Maclean’s correspondent Michael Petrou is in Kyiv and filed this report earlier today: