Sens. John McCain and Dan Coats joked that their vacation plans for Siberia are off after they found themselves on a list of nine U.S. officials and lawmakers hit with sanctions Thursday by Russia, in a tit-for-tat retaliation that signaled an escalation in the diplomatic battle over Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry imposed the travel ban on five senators, three White House officials and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, just minutes after President Obama announced on the White House lawn that he was adding to his sanctions list 20 more Russians and a leading Russian bank, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen,” Mr. McCain quipped. “Nonetheless, I will never cease my efforts on behalf of the freedom, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.”
But beneath the jokes lay a big difference. For Russian businessmen, travel to the West and using Western financial institutions is far more important than for the American political figures who face sanctions.
“They need London banks or American banks, and obviously Americans do not need to put their money in Russian banks,” said David Adesnik, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
He said that unless Russia expands its penalties, it amounts to little more than a chance for Americans to claim bragging rights about ending up on the list.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, took a lighthearted approach to appearing on the list. He posted a Twitter message saying it’s “one thing to pick on me, but I wouldn’t mess with Mary” — a reference to Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, who also was sanctioned.
Ms. Landrieu, who is locked in a tough re-election battle, said she must have run afoul of Mr. Putin because she was using her position as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to try to undermine Russia’s energy stranglehold on its neighbors. She called the listing a “badge of honor.”
The Russians’ choice of targets was interesting.
Mr. Coats‘ partner on that resolution, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, was left off.
Also making the list were Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat; White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer; and Deputy National Security Advisers Benjamin Rhodes and Caroline Atkinson. But White House press secretary Jay Carney didn’t make the cut, nor were any House lawmakers other than Mr. Boehner.
Russian officials said their sanctions were absolutely meant as retaliation against the sanctions Mr. Obama announced in two rounds this week.
“We have repeatedly warned that the use of sanctions is double-edged and has a boomerang effect,” news service RIA Novosti quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying.
Mr. Adesnik said while the Russian penalties are toothless, the real test will be whether Mr. Putin expands sanctions to U.S. businesses such as Exxon Mobil Corp., which is working with Russian oil giant Rosneft in a deal that could greatly boost Russian revenue and help the government’s budget.
“The question is, do the Russians want to give up on that? Do they expect revenue from it?” Mr. Adesnik said.
Analysts told The Associated Press that the Russian economy, which has been slumping this year, likely could weather the sanctions Mr. Obama has announced. But what happens next is unclear.
“The main risk is in the sanctions that have not been announced,” Nataliya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank in Moscow, told AP. “It’s hard to estimate the effect right now because we don’t know what they will be.”
The Russian stock market is down 10 percent for the year and, in an ominous sign, the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook for the country from “stable” to “negative” Thursday, citing the adverse international reaction to Moscow’s move on Crimea.
“Geopolitical reaction to Russia’s incorporation of Crimea could further reduce the flow of potential investment and negatively affect already weak economic growth, which would provide a further basis for lowering the ratings,” S&P analysts wrote in explaining the downgrade.
European leaders are meeting this week to decide whether to ratchet up their sanctions, and leaders have sent mixed signals. Mr. Obama will be in Europe for a previously scheduled trip next week.
As Americans joked about the sanctions, those on the Russian side who face American penalties protested.
Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russia’s railway monopoly, said he was surprised that “a country which calls itself democratic could punish for an honest position and sincere comments,” according to a report by RT, a television network with close ties to the Russian government.