Ukraine: U.S. Announces Sanctions, Russia Threatens Retaliation

The United States has been threatening increased sanctions against Russia in response to its encroachment and interference in Ukraine’s transition to a new opposition government after a long period of violent, internal protest rocked the country. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych escaped from Ukraine to find shelter in Russia; Ukraine’s interim government accused him of mass murder following his rapid departure form the country. Troops of Russian origin have since invaded Crimea, a portion of Ukraine with a large number of ethnic Russians. Now, President Barack Obama has taken another step to further increase pressure on Russia and indicate the U.S.’s displeasure.

Obama signed an executive order on Thursday that will “authorize sanctions on individuals and entities responsible or activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a press release. The State Department also put visa restrictions on officials and individuals who were or are involved in “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

According to Carney’s release, the executive order is intended to be a more adaptive mechanism for dealing with interests that would destabilize Ukraine, and it does not exclude the possibility of continued steps should the need arise. In the past month, the United States has taken other steps toward isolating Russia, including ending trade and investment discussions, freezing a number of bilateral meetings, and temporarily ceasing Russian and U.S. military-to-military engagement. On top of that, the U.S. and other nations have agreed to put off preparations for the Group of 8 summit in Sochi, Russia, which is scheduled to take place in June.

We’ve made clear that it is an absolute clear-cut violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity to take the steps that Russia has taken, and that’s why we urge Russia to very quickly and immediately begin a dialogue with the government of Ukraine,” Carney said at a press gaggle on Thursday. “Pull back Russia’s military forces to their bases, restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and allow for the urgent deployment of observers and human rights monitors.”

According to The New York Times, Russian officials responded in anger to the sanctions, saying that Russia could return the actions to the United States. “The U.S. has the right, and we have the right to respond to it,” said Vladimir Lukin, the human rights commissioner of Russia and previously the ambassador to the United States, the Times reports.

“But all this is, of course, not making me happy,” Lukin said of the sanctions. “There are many one-sided, half-hysterical evaluations in the media. I repeated this to John Kerry, who seems to understand that it doesn’t really help the flow of normal work. It’s impossible to work honestly under the threat of ultimatums and sanctions.”

On the other hand, some don’t believe the sanctions are likely to have much real effect. “It doesn’t say, for example, that certain Russian state and private banks will be punished by a 30 percent increase on the political risk margin, or that exports of some products will be banned, or that there will be no technology transfer,” said Igor Y. Yurgeens, previously a Kremlin adviser and current head of the Institute of Contemporary Development in Moscow, to The New York Times. “It’s more of a political signal than a serious economic tool.”

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: