Putin attends a media meeting organized by the Russian People's Front in St. Petersburg.
Putin attends a media meeting organized by the Russian People's Front in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photo by AP
Text size
AP
U.S. President Barack Obama, along with Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, speaks at a joint news conference at Malacanang Palace in Manila, the Philippines, Monday, April 28, 2014. Photo by AP

The United States levied new sanctions Monday on seven Russian government officials, as well as 17 companies with links to Vladimir Putin, 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."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov expressed "disgust" on Monday at the U.S. announcement, saying it "demonstrates a complete lack of understanding among our colleagues in Washington about what is happening in Ukraine."

Among the targets of the new sanctions is Igor Sechin, a long time Putin ally who has been described as "Putin's lieutenant." Sechin worked under Putin in the St. Petersburg city hall in the early 90s. When Putin left for Moscow, he took Sechin along with him.

While working in the Kremlin, Sechin rose through the ranks from a deputy director of a foreign property department to presidential aide and deputy prime minister — all under Putin's leadership.

The others under sanction include Oleg Belavncev, the Russian presidential envoy to the Crimean District and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.

For the full list of persons and companies targeted in the new sanctions, click here

Obama has been building a case for this new round of sanctions throughout his trip, both in his public comments and in private conversations with European leaders.

The new sanctions are intended to build on earlier U.S. and European visa bans and asset freezes imposed on Russian officials, including many in Putin's inner circle, after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last month.

Several U.S. Republican lawmakers said on Monday the latest sanctions are too mild to deter Moscow from further action in Ukraine and demanded broader measures.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the new sanctions "just a slap on the wrist." His fellow Republican, Indiana Senator Dan Coats, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, said he was concerned President Barack Obama's actions were "too little, too late."

"Until Putin feels the real pain of sanctions targeting entities like Gazprom, which the Kremlin uses to coerce Ukraine and other neighbors, as well as some significant financial institutions, I don't think diplomacy will change Russian behavior and de-escalate this crisis," Corker in a statement.  

White House officials say they decided last week to impose the new penalties after determining that Russia had not lived up to its commitments under a fragile diplomatic accord aimed at easing the crisis in Ukraine. But the U.S. held off on implementing the sanctions in order to coordinate its actions with the European Union, which could also announce new penalties as early as Monday.

The failed diplomatic accord reached in Geneva called on the Kremlin to use its influence to get pro-Russian insurgents to leave the government buildings they have occupied in eastern Ukraine. But those forces have not only balked at leaving those buildings, but have also stepped up their provocations, including capturing European military observers who were paraded by the militants before the media Sunday.

Despite the deteriorating situation, Obama said Russia still has the opportunity to resolve the Ukraine crisis through a diplomatic path. But he voiced pessimism about whether the new sanctions package would be enough to change Putin's calculus.

"We don't yet know whether it's going to work," he said.

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.

Much of Obama's outreach to European leaders in recent weeks has focused on building support for the sector sanctions. Europe has far deeper economic ties with Russia than the U.S., making its participation in any sector sanctions critical in order to maximize pressure on Putin.

But many in Europe fear that those broader penalties could have a boomerang effect and negatively impact their own economies.

China against sanctions

China's foreign ministry on Monday restated its opposition to placing sanctions on Russia. Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had "maintained communication" with all sides since the outset of the Ukraine crisis, including the G7 countries, and explained its position.

"On the issue of international relations, China has consistently opposed threatening or imposing sanctions. We believe that sanctions are not conducive to an issue's resolution, and may worsen tensions," he told a daily news briefing.

"We call on all sides to keep using dialogue and negotiation to appropriately resolve disagreements, to push for a political resolution to the Ukraine crisis. Sanctions are not in any party's interests."

China has adopted a cautious response to the crisis, not wanting either to alienate key ally Russia or comment directly on the referendum in which Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, lest it set a precedent for its own restive regions, like Tibet.

But China has also said it would like to continue to develop "friendly cooperation" with Ukraine and that it respects the ex-Soviet state's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. China said in March, after Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia, that sanctions were not the best way to resolve the situation.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, since ousted after three months of sometimes violent protests, visited China in December in the hope of winning much-needed financial aid, but China did not say it would provide any loans.