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Are tougher sanctions in store for Russia?

Russia's President Vladimir Putin And Russian Billionaires At Russia Business Week Conference

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. sanctions against a Russian bank and the Kremlin's inner circle have pinched Moscow, but if the goal is to get President Vladimir Putin to roll his forces out of Crimea or prevent him from doing any more land grabs, their effectiveness remains in doubt.

Putin has mocked the punitive steps President Barack Obama has taken so far in their post-Cold War game of chess - or chicken.

He made jokes of Obama's decision this week to freeze the assets of businessmen with close ties to Putin as well as Bank Rossiya, which provides them support. Putin quickly retaliated by slapping travel restrictions on nine U.S. officials and lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, who quipped: "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off."

More serious repercussions loom if the standoff heats up.

For now, Putin says there is no need for further Russian retaliation, yet his Foreign Ministry vowed that Moscow would "respond harshly."

Putin claims to have no plans for further incursions into Ukraine or elsewhere in the neighborhood. But he's not planning to reverse Russia's annexation of Crimea either.

The U.S. and Europe are left to weigh the possibility of levying tougher measures on Russia's energy and banking sectors. That could backfire if Moscow, in turn, seized American or other foreign assets or cut exports of natural gas to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russia for energy.

"If Russia doesn't do anything other than what they've done so far with Crimea, I think the Obama administration will probably stand pat with the sanctions that it has already imposed," said Richard Fontaine, president of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. "I think they are waiting to see if this is the end of the Russian adventurism, or if there is more to come, and then they will react with more sanctions accordingly."

By taking a step-by-step approach, the U.S. is giving Russia a chance to take the "diplomatic off-ramp" and resolve the crisis, Fontaine said. "The problem with that is that Putin has shown absolutely no appetite to take any off-ramp," he said. "If the off-ramp means reversing what he's done in Crimea, I don't think these sanctions are going to achieve that."

Just the threat of harsher sanctions has dampened the outlook for the Russian economy, which is already on a slow-roll. Russian stocks were under pressure Friday as a second credit rating agency put the country on notice of a possible downgrade and Visa and MasterCard stopped serving two Russian banks, including Bank Rossiya.

The Russian stock market has lost more than 10 percent this month amid growing tensions between Russia and the West. Also on Friday, Russia said it might scrap plans to tap international markets for money this year as it counts the cost of the sanctions imposed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea.

The EU hit 12 more people with sanctions Friday over Russia's annexation of Crimea, bringing its list of those facing visa bans and asset freezes to 33. They include one of Russia's deputy prime ministers, a Putin adviser and the speaker of Russia's upper house of Parliament, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

Still, the EU roster fell short of the top-tier list of Putin associates the U.S. sanctioned - evidence that Europe is not as eager to punish its energy supplier and trade partner.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who went to Ukraine with McCain last week, called on Obama to rally the support of U.S. allies on sanctions. "To do it alone is very limited. To do it with our allies can have some impact on Putin," he said.

McCain also said that sanctioning Russian lawmakers and Putin's inner circle won't get Putin's attention. He said the U.S. should provide financial aid to Ukraine, immediately send defensive weapons to the country, resume work on the missile defense system in Poland and develop a long-term plan to get energy to Europe and Ukraine.

"The higher price that Putin thinks he has to pay for further aggression, the more likely that he doesn't act," said McCain, who described the situation as an "incredible threat" to the stability of Europe.

Fifty former U.S. government officials and foreign policy experts wrote a bipartisan letter to Obama on Friday urging the president to strengthen Ukraine's democratic transition and impose "real costs" on Putin. The letter was organized by the conservative-leaning Foreign Policy Initiative.

They urged Obama to sanction even more Russian officials, including Putin himself and those closest to him. They said that sanctioning Bank Rossiya was a good first step but that the U.S. should expand the scope of sanctions to isolate Russian financial institutions and businesses that are either complicit in Russia's incursion into Crimea or support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The group praised the deployment of U.S. fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic states but said the U.S. should deploy additional ground forces, missile defenses or other assets to former Warsaw Pact members of NATO, work to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas and expand U.S. military rotations to Georgia, which is seeking membership in NATO.

Experts on Russia and Europe caution against looking at the Crimea problem too narrowly. It's possible that Putin's move into Crimea is part of a longer game of stopping NATO enlargement - or at least keeping neighboring countries politically off-balance so they can't be further integrated into NATO or have closer relationships with the West.

"We don't have anything against cooperation with NATO, nothing at all," Putin said in a speech this week. "We are against having the (NATO) military alliance ... behaving as the master of the house outside our fence, next to our home or on our historical territory."


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata in Washington and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

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ramonbatt March 22 2014 at 12:17 PM

I am sure Obama will blow the opportunity to secure support. He has no clue?

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jetski2525 March 22 2014 at 10:02 AM

I think this is a big financial mistake. When all the sudden did WE the USA come up with money to help Ukraine. We have had gov't shutdowns here with the threat of more. There is poverty here in the US. And now we have all this money and aid to send to anyone our law makers want to give it to? I'm sorry its not their money their spending. Its OURS! Maybe we should ask our banker- China if we can afford to do this. It didn't cost a anything to liberate Iraq. I mean Afganistan. I mean Lybia...........Sometimes I think those European and Arab countries should do more for neighbors. US needs to take care of their own problems here at home.

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3 replies
nanzbh March 22 2014 at 10:01 AM

Obama and the rest of his Mickey Mouse Club administration has put the United States out of the position of being a world leader. The end result has been to embolden our enemies, as witnessed over the past years in the Middle East as well as North Korea, Iran, and now Russia.
Obama's actions make Jimmy Carter's actions look like that of John Wayne and that's really sad.

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joe March 22 2014 at 10:01 AM

Why do we waste so much time and money. Fix our country first to make us stong and watch all of these weak countries fall apart. we came together for the world wars and won it because we were stong. We should mind our own businesses. The Obumma administration is run by a bunch of clowns. I think the cirus has to go it been her too long and the animals are starting to make this place stink. Look the Republicans use an elephant and Democrats use a donkey as a logo so see we have a circus that has to go. Gobble Gobble

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myrtlebeachbums1 March 22 2014 at 1:40 PM

10 years after imosing sanctions on Iran.......they are still making WMD's............I wonder how much the sanctions of Russia will cost the USA in lost business......

Butt out Obama........it aint our business......you darn fool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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RSK1177 March 22 2014 at 9:59 AM

Will sanctions really hurt Russia that much? How long has Iran survived in spite of all the sanctions that were placed on that country. Russia is much stronger than Iran to begin with so how long will it take for the sanctions to have any effects? If Putin shuts down the pipelines, that would hurt the rest of Europe for energy and the U.S. will probably have to export to help resulting in higher prices here. Without firing a single shot, Russia and China can devastate the U.S. by replacing the dollar in the world market. With our $17 trillion national debt and the constant printing of money, we're in a very, very vulnerable position.

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1 reply
bole63 RSK1177 March 22 2014 at 10:54 AM

If Putin shut's down the pipelines, Europe is going down, and USA will folow...and China, Russia and some Assian already make a plans to replace weak Dolar .

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Brian Workman March 22 2014 at 1:45 PM

Lets ALL blame BUSH AGAIN!?!? It's easier to do, than the lay blame on Obama, where it belongs!!!

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1 reply
bigalfree1 Brian Workman March 22 2014 at 2:07 PM

You are so uninformed... Plus no matter what Obama does he still served two terms...lol

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2 replies
ceecee bigalfree1 March 22 2014 at 2:28 PM

Wow, you can count...more than most of you idiot Oblamer voters can do...and by the way, Bush served two terms too, and Oblamer has no served two terms yet..lol

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seaski88 bigalfree1 March 22 2014 at 2:32 PM

Seems thats all that matters to you... real funny isnt it....

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wfischl March 22 2014 at 1:52 PM

next round..... after barry band about 12 of putins friends----- possibly we would tell him he cant visit the US.

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AL March 22 2014 at 2:17 PM

Well, Well,Well.......I guess the 'gift of gab' and only go so far! The 'Uneducated are totally impressed with a gifted speaker...the only problem is talk goes only so far. When you get into a fight , that talk goes out of the window. Dear President Obumber...you're over your head... what now happens....???? Those who were impressed with your 'gift of gab' go now back too there dull, un-educated lives (the ones who voted you in), and the rest of us, who saw you for what you are....a 'Community Organizer' ...a begger with their hand out, contributing nothing to man-kind with the exception of speaches and a lot of bull-sh1t..."The whole world has got you number...ZERO!!!!!

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2 replies
patmcurran AL March 22 2014 at 2:21 PM

Georgie boy looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul and liked what he saw. You look into Georgie's eyes and you see the back of his head.

Too bad the bad pilot and his TP brainless whatever didn't get elected, we would be in a Nuclear war by now. Thank God that Americans are smarter than that.

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ceecee AL March 22 2014 at 2:21 PM

VERY well said (or well posted).

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cpenrod March 22 2014 at 10:05 AM

Putin's world popularity continues to rise, as Obama sinks lower and lower. Obama doesn't have a clue. He just lets the First Leech waste our tax monies on her elaborate vacations, at American taxpayer expense, and fantasizes phony national interest excuses to justify the waste.Worse yet, we leave him in office to continue his destruction of the U.S.A.

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1 reply
caprice420 cpenrod March 22 2014 at 10:09 AM

Well said!!

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