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Obama: U.S. to levy new Russia sanctions Monday

Apr. 28, 2014 - 10:32AM   |  
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MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Seeking to ratchet up pressure on Vladimir Putin, President Barack Obama said the United States will levy new sanctions Monday on Russian individuals and companies in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged provocations in Ukraine.

Obama said the targets of the sanctions would include high-technology exports to Russia’s defense industry. The full list of targets will be announced by officials in Washington later Monday and are also expected to include wealthy individuals close to Putin, the Russian president.

“The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin personally,” Obama said. “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 announced the sanctions during a news conference in the Philippines, his final stop on a four-country Asia swing. The president has been building a case for this round of penalties 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.

White House officials say they decided last week to impose additional 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 agreement reached in Geneva just over a week ago 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.

European diplomats were set to meet in Brussels Monday to discuss slapping asset freezes and travel bans on more officials associated with Russia’s actions on Ukraine. The EU has so far sanctioned 33 individuals over the Crimea annexation.

The EU was likely to add another 15 individuals to its sanctions list at the meeting and discuss further steps, a diplomat from a major EU country said. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official decision had not yet been announced, declined to elaborate on which officials would be targeted.

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. The EU is Russia’s biggest trading partner, giving it much 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.

Associated Press writer Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

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