US President Barack Obama yesterday ordered the freezing of US assets and a ban on travel into the US of those involved in the Russian military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimean Republic.
Obama signed an executive order aimed at punishing those Russians and Ukrainians responsible for a Russian move into Crimea, a crisis that has raised old-style Cold War tensions.
The order, the White House said in a statement, is “a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.”
In addition, the US Department of State is putting in place visa bans on a number of officials and individuals responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The order was announced as US Secretary of State John Kerry began a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Rome.
A senior State Department official said the US had informed the Europeans beforehand about the sanctions.
Obama is attempting to rally global opinion against the Russian move, which Russian President Vladimir Putin says was aimed at protecting ethnic Russians in the Crimea region of southern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Crimea’s parliament yesterday voted to join Russia and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum within 10 days on the decision.
The sudden acceleration of moves to bring Crimea — which has an ethnic Russian majority and has effectively been seized by Russian forces — formally under Moscow’s rule, came as EU leaders gathered for an emergency summit to seek ways to pressure Russia to back down and accept mediation.
The Crimean parliament voted unanimously “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation.”
The vice premier of Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea military base in Sevastopol, said a referendum on the status would take place on March 16. He said all state property would be “nationalized” and the Russian ruble could be adopted.
Diplomats said the announcement could not have been made without Putin’s approval.
Far from seeking a diplomatic way out, Putin appears to have chosen to create facts on the ground before the West can agree on more than token action against him.
EU leaders had been set to warn, but not sanction Russia over its military intervention after Moscow rebuffed Western diplomatic efforts to persuade it to pull forces in Crimea back to their bases. It was not immediately clear what impact the Crimean moves would have.