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New round of sanctions aimed at Putin, Russian elite

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Obama administration announced plans for a new round of sanctions but faced Republican criticism Sunday that the president was still too weak in his response to Russian aggressiveness in the Ukraine crisis.

Tony Blinken, deputy national security adviser at the White House, said Sunday that the administration will release a new round of sanctions Monday targeting individuals in Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle as well as the companies they own. The goal is to affect the economy enough to get Mr. Putin to solve the Kremlin's disputes with Ukraine with diplomacy, he said.

"We have to be deliberate about it," Mr. Blinken said on CNN's "State of the Union." "There are lot of things going on around him, people who matter to him, who will be affected by these sanctions, but more than that, it's the Russian economy."

Meanwhile on Sunday, pro-Russia militants, which the U.S. and Ukraine have both accused of actually being Russian special-operations soldiers, continued activities in eastern Ukraine, seizing the TV broadcasting center in Donetsk to demand Russian programming and parading Western military observers in Slovyansk to make public statements they weren't being mistreated.

The militants also showed Russian journalists three Ukrainian security service officers bloodied and blindfolded with packing tape.

The eight-member European military-observer team, four of them Germans, were seized Friday and accused of being NATO spies. "The mayor of this city granted us his protection and he regarded us as his guests," Col. Axel Schneider told journalists under armed guard.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the spectacle "revolting" and said it "violates (the observers) dignity in a blatant fashion," he said in a statement. "This is a breach of all the rules and standards."

In Washington, Republicans said Sunday it may already be too little, too late.

"As we've seen from this administration on so many tough issues, their policy's always late, after the point in time when we could have made a difference in the outcome. So I'm very concerned," said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on "Face the Nation."

Mr. Corker said hitting individuals only affects the top tier of Russian elites, not the upper-middle class or Russia's broader population. It's important to put sanctions on companies, he said, but he also advised hitting the country's four largest banks and Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas company, to really send "shock waves" through the whole economy.

"I think these targeted sanctions against individuals just are not affecting Putin's behavior enough," he said.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, echoed the need to sanction more than just individuals, but said efforts need to go further to affect the whole economy as well as Russia's military. He criticized President Obama's foreign policy as a whole, saying that it makes America look weak to the rest of the world.

"Our enemies don't fear us, our friends don't trust us," he said.

Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said sanctions on Mr. Putin's close friends will eventually have an impact, since it prevents them from doing business around the world.

"You need to have sanctions against those closest to Putin himself," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "On specific individuals in the elite class in Russia that have great influence on Mr. Putin, they're paying a price. They need to be involved in international economics and we're making that difficult."

In addition to more sanctions, Mr. Blinken said he believes public sentiment among Russians will soon turn against Crimea, now that the nationalism that immediately followed the invasion has waned, which may make Mr. Putin more likely to seek to solve the crisis.

"Crimea is already becoming a dead weight on Russia," he said. "They are spending billions and billions of dollars to prop up Crimea. At some point, the people are not going to like that."

While the U.S. will continue to offer economic aid and military training, Mr. Blinken said providing lethal weapons to Ukranians will not be helpful.

"We can send weapons to the Ukraine, but it wouldn't make any difference in their ability to stand up to the Russians," he said. "What will make a difference over time is professionalizing their military."

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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