Reports: Obama readies new Russian sanctions


The Obama administration is preparing another round of targeted sanctions hitting key Russian industries as the U.S. looks to coerce Moscow into backing a peace plan offered by new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Reports in Bloomberg and The New York Times suggest the administration is pressing ahead with what a U.S. official last week called “scalpel sanctions” that would narrowly target Russia's technology, defense and financial sectors.

The sanctions could ban U.S. companies and financial institutions from doing business with major Russian banks, prevent technology transfers to Russia’s natural gas industries and block deals with Russian defense companies, according to the Times.

The steps would represent a substantial escalation in penalties imposed against Moscow, and indicate that the U.S. is skeptical of recent overtures by Russian President Vladimir Putin that suggest the Kremlin might be attempting to deescalate the situation in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Putin asked the Russian parliament to rescind an authorization allowing him to invade Ukraine and praised a fragile ceasefire agreement between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s eastern and southern regions. Putin also encouraged direct one-on-one talks between the two sides.

The moves came after a phone conversation with Obama during which the president emphasized “that the United States remains prepared to impose additional sanctions should circumstances warrant,” according to the White House.

But those overtures were complicated by rebels shooting down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing nine. The separatists likely used heavy artillery provided by Russia, and the State Department reported last week that Russia was sending additional tanks and weaponry across the Ukrainian border to aid the separatists. The White House has also said that despite an earlier draw-down order, Russian troops are again amassing on the border with Ukraine.

"There is an opportunity for President Putin and Russia to play a constructive role in deescalating the situation in eastern Ukraine," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday. "And the constructive role that they can play involves more than just words. It involves tangible actions. There's an opportunity for President Putin to take these actions and support the deescalation of the crisis."

Earnest added that the end of weapons disbursement to separatists would make "additional sanctions less likely."

But U.S. efforts to turn the screws on Moscow with additional sanctions may be complicated by reluctant allies. European allies who have so far matched U.S. efforts are concerned the penalties could harm their domestic economies, according to Bloomberg.

U.S. companies are also expressing concern. The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are planning to run advertisements in a major American newspapers warning more sanctions could hurt U.S. workers and businesses, according to Bloomberg.

In recent days, Obama has actively worked the phones to rally support for the

proposed additional steps. On Tuesday, he called British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the past week has seen consultations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.