U.S., West Slaps New Sanctions on Russia As Putin Remains Defiant

putinOn Friday U.S. President Barack Obama took executive action from the White House and slapped more sanctions on the Kremlin for its past actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine which comes as Russia moves ever close to a full blown recession due to a “perfect storm” of plummeting oil prices, an exodus of foreign investment, western sanctions, and a weakened currency that has lost half its value against the dollar and 43 percent of its value against the euro since early 2014.

President Obama said that the new sanctions against Russia “prohibit the export of goods, technology, or services to Crimea and prohibits the import of goods, technology, or services from Crimea, as well as new investments in Crimea.”

The sanctions also authorizes the Treasury Department to impose sanctions on individuals and entities operating in Crimea.

After calling on Russia to end its occupation and annexation of Crimea and fomenting political unrest in eastern Ukraine, President Obama emphasized that the U.S will continue to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine and monitor Russia’s actions with its international partners.

“My Administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to events in Ukraine and to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well its democratic development and reform efforts.  We will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions, in close coordination with our international partners, to respond to Russia’s actions” Obama said.

The EU issued similar sanctions on Russia last Thursday and Canada imposed their own new sanctions that are directed at Russia’s oil industry in addition to travel ban sanctions on 20 Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainians.

Russia has responded by rejecting the new round of Western sanctions just days after Russia’s central bank raised their prime interest rate last week to 17 percent from 10.5 percent to help stabilize the ruble’s tumble.

On Saturday Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at a gala marking the Special Agency Worker’s Day and reacted to the latest decision by the West to offer new economic sanctions against Russia for its past hostile actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, a non-NATO country.

“Frank statements are being made to the effect that Russia should pay dearly for its independent stance, for its support for its compatriots, for Crimea and Sevastopol…. for merely existing, it sometimes seems. Clearly, no one has ever succeeded in scaring, suppressing or isolating Russia and never will” Putin said.

On Thursday Russian President Putin held his annual marathon 3 hour press conference and blamed “external forces” for Russia’s recent economic slide, including the plunging price of Brent oil crude that has fallen to a 5  1/2 year low due to surging oil supply levels and weaker international growth in countries such as China, Japan, and the EU.

Putin accepted some responsibility for failing to diversify the Russian economy that remains overly dependent on falling revenues from its oil exports.

“The current situation was obviously provoked primarily by external factors. However, we proceed from the view that we have failed to achieve many of the things that were planned and that needed to be done to diversify the economy over the past 20 years” Putin admitted.

Putin responded to questions about the future of Ukraine and the success of the Minsk cease fire agreement by stating that it should be settled by political means and not through “pressure” while proceeding “from the fundamental principles of international law and from people’s right to decide their fate on their own” which is notably incongruous since the U.N General Assembly rejected Russia’s annexation vote of Crimea in the spring of 2014 and provided a non-binding resolution that upheld the “territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”.

Putin was asked by a BBC journalist about Russia inciting a new cold war with the West after using Russian aircraft for maneuvers in western airspace and sending troops into a sovereign country.

Putin replied that Russia “did contribute” but only insofar as it is more and more firmly “protecting its national interests”.

On Friday Harvard School of Government Professor Nicholas Burns spoke on Bloomberg’s Surveillance about President Putin’s increasingly isolated standing on the international stage after facing a range of economic sanctions from the West, most notably following the downing of Malaysian Airline flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July that was believed to have been shot down by a surface to air missile launched by pro-Russian separatists using Russian military equipment.

“I think that President Putin has been surprised by the depth of the sanctions and by their length. He figured that his long- time economic relationship with Europe would convince the Europeans not to do anything” Burns said.

“But looking back at this year, it was the shoot down of the Malaysian Airliner in July that turned European public opinion against him and that led to the EU sanctions” Burns added.

-Johnathan Schweitzer

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