- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2014

President Obama on Monday slapped Russia with the kinds of economic sanctions not seen since the Cold War, but the administration’s supposed hard line was met with mockery and a “collective shrug” in Moscow, Kiev and Washington.

One day after Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, the White House and its partners in the European Union responded by targeting high-ranking officials in Moscow along with pro-Russian figures responsible for the unrest in Ukraine.

The move adds even more tension to a dramatic standoff between Russia and the West, but early signs suggest the latest round of sanctions will have little impact on Russian President Vladimir Putin as he moves toward annexation of Crimea and, some fear, an all-out invasion of Ukraine.

Even some of those directly affected by the U.S. and European sanctions laughed them off and openly mocked Mr. Obama.

“Comrade Obama, what should those who have neither accounts nor property abroad do? Have you not thought about it?” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in a message on Twitter. He is one of the seven Russian officials directly targeted by the president in an executive order signed Monday morning. “I think the decree of the President of the United States was written by some joker.”

The sanctions specifically target officials close to Mr. Putin, though neither the Russian president nor Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was among those named.

SEE ALSO: Putin to sanction McCain, Durbin, White House officials: report

In the order, Mr. Obama declared all American-controlled assets of the Russian officials frozen and said they “may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn or otherwise dealt.”

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Obama said there is still time for Russia to pull back and resolve the situation peacefully and diplomatically, but stressed that the U.S. and its partners are prepared to take further action if the crisis escalates.

“We’ll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,” the president said. “The international community will continue to stand together to oppose any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. And continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine will only deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation and exact a greater toll on the Russian economy.”

He also reiterated that the U.S. and its allies will not recognize the results of the Crimean referendum Sunday.

Mr. Putin, however, declared Crimea a “sovereign and independent country” on Monday. Mr. Putin will address both houses of the Russian parliament Tuesday on the unfolding situation on the Crimean Peninsula, home to Russian military bases and a large population of ethnic Russians.

The chairman of the State Duma — the main Russian parliamentary body — said Moscow will act “swiftly and responsibly” to make necessary decisions relating to Crimea’s reunification with Russia. The remarks by Sergei Naryshkin were reported Monday by Interfax, a private news agency in Russia.

SEE ALSO: Russia signs treaty seizing Crimea

A delegation of Crimean lawmakers Monday traveled to Moscow to consult with Russian officials on how to proceed.

Also Monday, the Kremlin urged Ukraine to take steps toward a new constitution that would give the nation a more federal structure — potentially increasing the power of the ethnic Russian-dominated east — and to adopt a “neutral political and military status,” effectively ruling out membership in the European Union and NATO.

Kiev dismissed the proposal as “an ultimatum.”

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov vowed Monday that Ukraine will not give up Crimea even as the crisis threatens to spread.

Fearing a greater Russian incursion, Mr. Turchynov activated about 20,000 military reservists Monday and called for the mobilization of another 20,000 in the country’s recently formed national guard.

The U.S. and EU sanctions are meant to pressure Moscow into backing down and prevent further violation of Ukraine’s boundaries, but that strategy has failed.

In Kiev, where a new government is trying to fend off Mr. Putin and prevent the loss of Crimea, reactions to the latest round of sanctions were lukewarm at best.

“The first reaction here … is sort of a collective shrug,” said Chris Miller, editor of the Kyiv Post who briefed reporters during a conference call hosted by the Wilson Center.

Mr. Miller said the sentiment is “these sanctions are too soft, too late. They don’t target those high up enough, closer to Putin.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called the White House’s approach “timid.”

“I don’t know how it could have been weaker, besides doing nothing,” he said during an interview on MSNBC.

The prime minister of Crimea also blasted the U.S. president, tweeting a digitally altered picture of Mr. Obama in a Russian military uniform.

“Interestingly, after the success of the company in returning Crimea, Barack is getting the rank of colonel?” tweeted Sergey Aksyonov.

Despite all of that criticism, the White House is sticking by its strategy and arguing that the sanctions will have a dramatic impact.

“They’ll be effective on a number of different levels,” a senior administration official said Monday. “All of their assets are frozen. No U.S. person can do business with them … if they want to transact in dollars, they will unable to do so, unable to send money through the United States. More broadly, as we’ve seen in other circumstances, the people who we designate tend to find greater difficulty in accessing financial services elsewhere in the world.”

The White House also stressed that further sanctions could be imposed if Russia does not change course.

In addition to Mr. Rogozin, the officials specifically targeted by the administration are Vladislav Surkov, an aide to Mr. Putin; Sergey Glazyev, an adviser to Mr. Putin; Leonid Slutsky, State Duma deputy; Andrei Klishas, a member of Russia’s Federal Assembly; Valentina Matviyenko, head of Russia’s Federation Council; Yelena Mizulina, State Duma deputy; Sergey Aksyonov, who claims to be the prime minister of Crimea; Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Crimean parliament; Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the group Ukrainian Choice; and Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president who fled his nation after months of violent protests.

Guy Taylor contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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