- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2014

President Obama and European allies of the U.S. announced a string of sanctions against Russian officials and corporations over the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, as Mr. Obama launched a lengthy rebuttal to critics over his handling of the confrontation with Moscow and his overall approach to foreign policy.

The sanctions, announced as Mr. Obama neared the end of a four-nation tour of Asia, stopped well short of the broad economic punishment that Ukrainian officials and some of Mr. Obama’s domestic critics have said is necessary to get the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Even Mr. Obama expressed uncertainty about the effectiveness of the extra sanctions. Mr. Obama said in the Philippines on Monday that “we don’t yet know whether it’s going to work.”


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“The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin personally,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference in Manila. “The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he’s engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul.”

The president also defended his foreign policy record by saying he was content to “hit singles and doubles” to advance U.S. interests while the only alternative for his critics was military force that lacked popular support and would not achieve U.S. objectives.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and our budget? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?” Mr. Obama said.


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He acknowledged later in the press conference that the question got him “all worked up.”

“Frankly,” the president said, “most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.”

Many of his loudest critics, Mr. Obama said, learned nothing from what he called the “disastrous decision” to invade Iraq and “keep on just playing the same note over and over again.”

The president’s outburst did nothing to silence his critics. Some leading congressional Republicans call the latest sanctions weak and ineffective.

“After a week of rhetoric from the administration, I had hoped we would have responded to Russia’s blatant violations of its commitments to cease efforts to destabilize Ukraine with more than just a slap on the wrist,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, said the U.S. should have imposed tough sanctions on Russia’s entire financial sector.

“The administration’s tepid, incremental sanctions are insufficient given Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea and ongoing actions to fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine,” she said.

The latest round of U.S. sanctions targets seven Russian officials and 17 companies that the White House said are tied to Mr. Putin’s inner circle, placing them on a blacklist for asset freezes and visa bans. The administration also will restrict licenses for high-tech U.S. exports that could enhance Russia’s military.

The European Union agreed to sanction 15 more Russians and Ukrainians, bringing to 48 the total number of individuals targeted by the EU.

In Ukraine, violence flared again with the attempted assassination of a moderate mayor of the nation’s second-largest city and the killing of a Ukrainian soldier. Pro-Russia militants released one of eight European military observers after parading their captives in front of the press a day earlier.

The White House said it was imposing the sanctions because Russia “has done nothing” since it agreed in Geneva on April 17 to reduce tensions in Ukraine by refraining from provocative and violent actions. The U.S. now has sanctioned 45 individuals and 19 companies since Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine last month.

Russia’s involvement in the recent violence in eastern Ukraine is indisputable,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pressed his Russian counterpart to clarify Moscow’s intentions toward eastern Ukraine in light of Russian military exercises in the region.

Mr. Hagel spoke by phone Monday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. Mr. Shoigu assured Mr. Hagel that Russian forces will not invade Ukraine, the Pentagon said.

Mr. Obama has resisted sanctions against large sectors of the Russian economy, such as banking or energy, but said he hasn’t ruled them out.

“We are keeping in reserve additional steps we could take,” he said.

A senior administration official said the U.S. doesn’t expect Russia to change its behavior immediately.

“What we need to do is to steadily show the Russians that there are going to be much more severe economic pain, much more severe political isolation and, frankly, that Russia stands far more to lose continuing these actions over time than pursuing de-escalation,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Administration officials said the sanctions against Russia so far have contributed to sharp declines in the value of Russian equities, which are down almost 15 percent this year, and the Russian ruble, which has depreciated almost 9 percent against the dollar since Jan. 1.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.