President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a stop at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, March 20 2014.
Brian Blanco / EPA

Obama acts again to ‘impose additional costs’ on Russia

As the crisis in Ukraine continues to grow more serious, President Obama announced expanded sanctions against Russia this morning. The New York Times reported the policy targets top allies of Vladimir Putin’s administration and a bank with ties to these individuals.
“The United States is today moving, as we said we would, to impose additional costs on Russia,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on the South Lawn of the White House before leaving on a trip to Florida.
“These are all choices that the Russian government has made, choices that have been rejected by the international community,” he said.
Mr. Obama also said he had signed a new executive order that would allow him to impose sanctions on Russian industrial sectors, presumably including its energy exports – a step that would greatly tighten the economic pressure on Russia.
If recent history is any guide, it seems likely Republicans will denounce the White House’s move for being insufficiently “tough.”
Indeed, the word keeps coming up. The Hill ran a piece this morning on “five tough steps” the president can take with Russia. Sen. Marco Rubio has a Washington Post op-ed this morning demanding “tough sanctions on Russia.” The Hill published a separate item yesterday noting that Republicans want the Obama administration to “get tougher” with Putin.
In practical terms, it’s far from obvious what this is even supposed to mean.
Paul Waldman had a good piece on the subject yesterday.
[L]ook, for instance, at this headline in The Hill: “Republicans demand Obama get tougher with Putin over Ukraine.” Get tough! But read the article and what do you find? “Calls for more muscular actions, from expelling Russia from the Group of Eight to offering military support to Ukraine, came as Russia’s stock market rallied and the ruble gained value a day after Obama authorized an initial round of sanctions meant to punish the Russian economy.”
But is expelling Russia from the G-8 really “muscular”? That sounds a lot like economic pressure, which is the kind of exercise of “soft power” that tough guys are supposed to scorn.
For the most part, just about every step the Obama administration has taken is in line with Republican demands, but yet, these same moves have nevertheless been met with derision and complaints.
If the reactions seem like knee-jerk partisanship to you, you’re not the only one.
For its part, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced its own list this morning of Americans now facing Russian sanctions, including three members of the president’s team – Caroline Atkinson, Dan Pfeiffer, and Ben Rhodes – and six members of Congress. The list features Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.).
Under the circumstances, I get the sense more lawmakers are disappointed they weren’t included on the list.

Foreign Policy, Russia and Ukraine

Obama acts again to 'impose additional costs' on Russia