New sanctions up ante on Ukraine

Ukrainian government soldiers guard weapons captured from rebels in Devhenke village, eastern Ukraine, July 8, 2014.
Ukrainian government soldiers guard weapons captured from rebels in Devhenke village, eastern Ukraine, July 8, 2014.

The U.S. hit Russia with new sanctions on Wednesday, freezing assets and closing out financing markets to certain Russian companies and individuals, as the U.S. hopes to make it too expensive for Russia to continue its actions in Ukraine.

“Given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia's largest companies and financial institutions,” the president said Wednesday evening. He reiterated: Russia must stop sending fighters and weapons over Ukraine’s eastern border, support a cease-fire, and agree to internationally-mediated talks and “meaningful monitors” to avoid these and further economic punishments.

The new measures prohibit two major banks and energy firms from financing with U.S. capital markets for medium and long-term investments, something officials say they do often. The U.S. will also sanction eight arms firms, including the makers of the iconic AK-47, the governments and at least one leader of the Russian-fueled separatists in eastern Ukraine, an oil shipping facility in Crimea, and four Russian government officials.

“These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted--designed to have the maximum impact on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies,” he said.

The president stressed his coordination with European allies, but so far their sanctions have been lesser. European leaders are meeting in Brussels today and are expected to discuss sanctions, however.

The sanctions make good on threats the U.S. has been making for months: that the sanctions will only worsen if Russia doesn’t back down from its efforts in Ukraine. Russia for its part has denied their involvement, promising support for deescalation, all while the State department says they’re escalating the violence and arms flow across the border.

U.S. officials cite a number of factors to prove that these sanctions are working IMF’s predictions of the Russian economy, which are down 0.2% this year and suggest that recession is a possibility; the Russian ruble has depreciated in value by 4% this year and the stock market has declined 2%.

Treasury Sec. Jack Lew stressed the power of the sanctions and said they’ll just get worse as the situation continues.

“Even as we continue to work with our partners to de-escalate the situation, we remain fully prepared to continue increasing the financial and economic pressure on Russia if it does not cease its provocative behavior,” he said in a statement released Wednesday evening.

While many Republicans have criticized previous sanctions, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, supported the measures tepidly.

“I do wish we had acted more promptly,” he told NBC News later in the evening. “But I have to say, I am pleased with the steps that we're taking. They're late, but I want to give him an "attaboy" for taking these steps."