WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered sanctions on people responsible for Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, including travel bans and freezing of their U.S. assets, and said a referendum by the Crimea region to join Russia would violate international law.
Officials said a list of people targeted by the sanctions had not yet been drawn up, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is not going to be one of them.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said “I’m not aware of a limit” on how many people could be listed.
Obama signed an executive order aimed at punishing those Russians and Ukrainians responsible for the Russian move into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Escalating the crisis, Crimea’s parliament voted to join Russia on Thursday; its Moscow-backed government set a referendum on the decision in 10 days.
Obama warned that a referendum in Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution.
“Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine,” Obama said. “In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.”
Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a joint statement on Obama’s actions.
“The administration’s decision to bolster NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission by sending additional troops and F-15s, along with refueling capabilities, to eastern Europe is a step in the right direction,” the senators said. “Further, the administration’s decision to use an executive order to deny visas to those responsible for the attempted annexation of Ukraine is a positive step. We believe these actions should have been taken earlier, but better late than never.
The senators urged the President to move forward with plans to freeze assets and “move to suspend Russia’s membership in the G-8 and the G-20.”
“The Russian invasion of Crimea is a clear violation of the 1994 agreement between Russia and Ukraine where Ukraine turned over all nuclear weapons to Russia in return for Russia agreeing to honor all territorial sovereignty,” Graham and Ayotte said in the statement.
“Putin is not the only one watching to see how America and our allies respond,” the senators said. “Iran, Syria, North Korea, and others are watching. The outcome in Crimea will have far-reaching consequences for U.S. national security.”
Obama and administration officials emphasized that the sanctions could be adjusted or additional steps taken as Russian behavior changed.
“While we take these steps, I want to be clear that there is also a way to resolve this crisis that respects the interests of the Russian Federation, as well as the Ukrainian people,” the President said, calling for international monitors to be allowed in Ukraine and talks between Moscow and Kiev.
“Russia would maintain its basing rights in Crimea, provided that it abides by its agreements and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the world should support the people of Ukraine as they move to elections in May,” he said, calling that the “path to de-escalation.”