WASHINGTON – The United States and its European allies hit more than two dozen Russian government officials, executives and companies with new sanctions Monday as punishment for their country’s actions in Ukraine, yet the penalties stopped short of targeting Russia’s broader economy.
In Moscow, there was relief that the sanctions were not as far-ranging as feared.
The measures, including asset freezes and visa bans, affect people close to the Kremlin, and Western leaders hope those hurt by the sanctions will pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to limit his reach in Ukraine and de-escalate the crisis there. However, the Russian leader himself was not among those targeted, and Obama administration officials acknowledged there was no expectation that Putin would quickly change course.
Still, officials in Washington and Brussels said the sanctions, coupled with an initial set imposed following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula last month, would significantly boost the cost to Moscow of ignoring an agreement it signed earlier this month to take concrete steps to ease tensions in Ukraine.
The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin personally, President Barack Obama told reporters in the Philippines, where he was wrapping up a four-nation trip to Asia. The goal is 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.
Obama said Russia still could resolve the Ukraine crisis diplomatically. But he sounded far from confident about the immediate prospects for the new sanctions packages.
We don’t yet know whether it’s going to work, he said.
In addition to the sanctions on the seven individuals and 17 companies, there also are new arms and technology export restrictions on Russia.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the European Union announced it had added 15 more officials to its Russia sanctions list, bringing to 48 the number of people singled out for undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
They will be banned from traveling to the 28-nation bloc, and their assets will be frozen, the EU said in a statement. The names of the individuals targeted weren’t immediately released.
The EU is Russia’s biggest trading partner, giving the Europeans greater economic leverage over Moscow than the U.S. has. However, the EU treads more carefully in imposing sanctions since Russia is also one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers – and the bloc apparently shied away from following Washington’s lead in targeting specific Russian companies.
In Moscow, the new sanctions were seen as milder than many had feared, largely because they did not affect any public companies or major sectors of the economy.
Bob Corker of Tennessee, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wished for more than just a slap on the wrist.
The failed diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva just over a week ago called on the Kremlin to get pro-Russian insurgents to leave the government buildings they have occupied in eastern Ukraine.
Yet the mayor of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, was shot and badly wounded Monday, and hundreds of men attacked a pro-Ukraine rally in the eastern city of Donetsk, wounding dozens.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the capture of European military observers and demanded their immediate release unconditionally and unharmed.