The Obama administration slapped new visa restrictions pro-Russian opponents of the new Ukraine government in Kiev and cleared the way for financial sanctions as the West began punishing Moscow for its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The anticipated financial sanctions will penalize “those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate,” the White House said in a statement.
Obama Administration Sends Harsh Message To Putin, Slaps Visa Restrictions on Russians
A senior administration official said the new visa restrictions are aimed at Russians and Ukrainians in the strategic Crimea region. Crimea is a peninsula that hosts a major Russian navy base and is historically and culturally a Russian stronghold.
Ukraine’s unrest peaked in February, after months of pro-Western protests seeking the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in anger over economic woes and corruption. Yanukovych, who is pro-Russian, fled for protection to a location just outside of Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Crimea in a show of force against the upstart government in Kiev.
President Obamas sanctions, were outlined in an executive order, laying the legal groundwork for the Treasury Department to impose financial penalties on offenders. The aim is clearly to punish the separatist movement in Crimea as well as Russia for its decision to send military forces there. It’s not immediately clear, however, whether the visa bans amount to sanctions against Moscow, and the senior administration official who briefed reporters on the plan declined to comment when asked that question.
The European Union has been considering its own sanctions against the pro-Russian movement, and the penalties announced Thursday were planned to coordinate with expected action in Brussels.
Lawmakers in Crimea declared their intention Thursday to split from Ukraine and join Russia instead, and scheduled a referendum in 10 days for voters to decide the fate of the disputed peninsula. Russia’s parliament, clearly savoring the action, introduced a bill intended to make this happen.
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had no intention of annexing Crimea, while insisting its population has the right to determine the region’s status in a referendum. Putin called a meeting of his Security Council on Thursday to discuss Ukraine.
Crimea’s new leader has said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the peninsula in the Black Sea and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered.
Obama Administration Sends Harsh Message To Putin, Slaps Visa Restrictions on Russians.
The Associated Press Contributed to this story.