Crimea crisis: Obama targets sanctions at Vladimir Putin’s inner circle after independence vote but Russia moves towards annexation

US and EU announce tough sanctions but Russia moves forward with plan to annex territory

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Russia on Monday night brushed off the toughest sanctions issued by the US and EU against Moscow since the end of the Cold War, by acknowledging the sovereignty of Crimea, opening the legal door for Moscow to annex the territory. 

Washington began to take aim at Vladimir Putin’s inner circle on Monday, in response to Sunday’s vote in Crimea in favour of secession from Ukraine. Two of President Putin’s top aides were among 11 officials hit by an assets freeze and travel ban, with US President Barack Obama warning that more could follow.

But Mr Putin appeared unmoved by the measures, signing a decree only hours later recognising Crimea’s sovereignty. He is expected to use a scheduled appearance before the Russian parliament on Tuesday to recommend moving forward with incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation.

The joint US-EU measures target Russian and Ukrainian officials they blame for helping stir the Crimea crisis. They are intended to “send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the White House said.

 

Mr Obama authorised the US Treasury Department to freeze the dollar assets of seven Russian individuals, including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, identified as prime movers in the effort to extract Crimea from Ukraine.

EU Foreign Ministers targeted 21 individuals, among them Sergey Aksyonov, the prime minister of Crimea.

Other US targets included Yelena Mizulina, a state deputy in the Duma seen as the architect behind recent moves against Russia’s gay community, and presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, who is credited with concentrating power in Mr Putin’s hands during his first term in office.

One official noted that the measures were “designed to hit close to home”.

However, Russia has appeared immune to any diplomatic retribution, which has included cancelling preparations for the G8 in Sochi and suspending talks on visa liberalisation. Instead, Russian troops are reported to be massing along their western borders with Ukraine, sparking fears Moscow’s intentions toward the former Soviet nation stretch beyond Crimea.

Scepticism the sanctions would inflict little financial pain on Russia, particularly if those targeted have no assets in the US or have already moved them beyond America’s reach, was quickly fuelled by Russian reaction to the move.

Mr Rogozin tweeted: “Comrade Obama... what will you do with those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or didn’t you think of that?”

It is now likely the US and EU will look to fulfil threats made on Monday by President Obama, who said if Russia did not change course and “de-escalate” the situation, further sanctions would follow.

Crimean politicians say Sunday’s poll resulted in 97 per cent support for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. But officials in Brussels and Washington have branded the Crimea referendum illegal and in breach of international law.

Russia responded by accusing the EU of meddling and sending troops into Crimea, a peninsula of two million people which has the highest concentration of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and is home to a Russian naval base.

Mr Obama said he was dispatching Vice-President Joe Biden today to Europe to meet with the leaders of four Nato allies – Poland and the three Baltic states, which have all expressed alarm about the possible future scope of Russian aggression.

He reiterated America’s “solemn commitment” to defending partners.

Comments