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Obama moves to expand sanctions on Russia

Kremlin responds with travel ban on lawmakers, others

A man in an unmarked uniform guarded Ukrainian crew members on a ship in Sevastopol, Crimea, on Thursday. Andrew Lubimov/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Thursday said that he would expand sanctions against Russia, blacklisting wealthy individuals with ties to the government and a bank used by them, and opening the door to broader measures against Russian energy exports.

The measures deliver on Obama’s warning this week that the United States would ratchet up the costs for Russia if President Vladimir Putin moved to annex the breakaway province of Crimea. But they were aimed at forestalling further Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine, after what Obama described as troubling Russian military movements.

In response, Moscow banned nine US officials from entering Russia, including House Speaker John A. Boehner; Senate majority leader Harry Reid; Senator John McCain of Arizona; and three senior White House officials.


In a statement accompanying the list, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denounced the US sanctions as a tool “from the arsenal of the past” that would backfire. “There should be no doubt: for every hostile attack, we will respond appropriately,” the statement said.

Tensions remained high in Crimea on Thursday, despite the release of a Ukrainian naval commander held by pro-Russian forces and the earlier announcement by Ukraine that it would remove its troops from the region. The pro-Russian forces seized three Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol, Crimea, the Associated Press reported.

In Brussels on Thursday, European Union leaders imposed a travel ban and asset freeze against 12 more Putin supporters. They also announced plans to scrap a scheduled EU-Russia summit in June as part of the intensifying standoff over Ukraine, which has turned into one of the biggest political crisis in Europe since the Cold War.

‘‘We need to prepare to take further steps and we need to do it together,’’ said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. ‘‘A strong Europe is the last thing that Putin wants. He wants to split us up.’’


Chancellor Angela Merkel said beyond increasing the number of Russians and Crimeans affected by asset freezes and travel bans — initially at 21 politicians and military commanders — the leaders would prepare stronger measures for future use, which would include economic sanctions and an arms embargo.

Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, will sign a political agreement Friday with EU leaders, underscoring Europe’s commitment to the new leadership in Kiev, the AP reported.

Speaking to France-24 television from Brussels, he called the agreement ‘‘the first big tremendous step to make Ukraine really a part of big Europe.’’

‘‘We do understand that this is only the first step,’’ Yatsenyuk said. ‘‘But this will pave the way to real reforms . . . that my country urgently needs.’’

The Russian move to block travel by US officials was met with a mix of bemusement and mild defiance in Washington. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said, “The speaker is proud to be included on a list of those willing to stand against Putin’s aggression.”

Obama announced the new US sanctions before leaving on a trip to Florida.

“The United States is today moving, as we said we would, to impose additional costs on Russia,” he said. “These are all choices that the Russian government has made, choices that have been rejected by the international community.”

Obama also said he had signed a new executive order that would allow him to impose sanctions on Russian industrial sectors, presumably including its energy exports — a step that would greatly tighten the economic pressure on Russia.


Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, denounced the sanctions and suggested that one of those on the list, Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei B. Ivanov, had spent more than 20 years in the KGB’s foreign intelligence service and had already been banned by “a majority of countries in the West,” he told Interfax, adding: “So he is quite accustomed to this situation.”

Ivanov is a close friend and aide to Putin, the two having joined the KGB together in 1975. He has served beside Putin throughout his presidency .

Another Russian singled out, Vladimir I. Yakunin, the head of the Russian Railways and also a close adviser and friend to Putin, said he was being punished for political reasons. “I’m sorry that a country that calls itself democratic uses sanctions for an honest position and for honest statements,” he told Interfax.

On Monday, the administration announced sanctions against seven Russian officials, including several close advisers to Putin, as well as against separatists figures in Crimea.

The executive order signed by Obama laid the legal groundwork to punish Russian companies involved in the arms trade, as well as other officials who work with the Russian government. The administration is now moving on those fronts as well.

The new sanctions were coordinated with the measures adopted by the European Union.

The EU is Moscow’s biggest trading partner, and Russia is the EU’s third-largest partner, mostly thanks to exports of raw materials such as oil and gas.