US: Kremlin's sanctions will hurt Russians

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Russia will restrict its own citizens' access to food with its new retaliatory ban on imports of U.S. meats, fruits and vegetables, the White House said Thursday.

Calling it a “cruel irony,” U.S. officials said Russia was imposing a sanction that would hurt its own people more than the United States.

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The Kremlin has “imposed a type of sanction — limiting access to food — that the United States would never do,” David Cohen, the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence told reporters. 

Cohen said the U.S. had never even contemplated penalties that would limit the Russian population's access to food, medicine or medical devices. 

“We don't do that,” Cohen said.

He added that the move would have an “utterly insignificant impact on the U.S. economy.”

“What the Russians have done here is limit the Russian's population to food,” Cohen said.

Russia announced on Wednesday it would implement a yearlong ban on “agricultural produce, raw materials and foodstuffs originating in countries that have decided to impose economic sanctions” on Russian businesses and individuals.

U.S. officials noted that some 40 percent of Russian food was imported from other countries, and called the move “clearly politically motivated.”

More broadly, the White House argued its sanctions on Russia's defense, energy and technology sectors were having an impact, despite growing concern that the economic damage has done little to rein in Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier Thursday, Russia announced that Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who revealed details about the government's top-secret surveillance programs, would be allowed to remain in Russia for at least three more years.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signaled concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine. U.S. officials have also signaled they’re upset Moscow continues to provide rebels with weaponry.

But the White House pointed out that, since the beginning of the year, the Russian stock market has declined 12 percent, while the ruble has depreciated by 9.5 percent against the dollar. Over the first half of the year, inflation in Russia has averaged 7.9 percent.

Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said the penalties “in the long run” would benefit the U.S.

“There is no doubt that a more stable international order based on the rule of law, where you're not seeing countries invade neighboring countries, increases economic stability … so, ultimately, what is in the global rule of law is in the interest of the U.S. economy as well,” Furman said.

The officials did express concern over reports Russia could be working on a deal with Tehran to submarine the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran by providing economic assistance.

Cohen said that it was “unclear whether there is any such deal or whether any deal has progressed in any way,” but such an agreement “would raise some very, very serious concerns.”

“We've been very clear in communications with the Russians at the highest level that they ought not move forward with any such deal,” Cohen said.