Day 25 Since Obama Authorized Additional Sanctions Against Russia, but Still No Action

By Patrick Goodenough | April 14, 2014 | 4:45 AM EDT

Armed pro-Russian activists prepare to seize the police station in the eastern Ukraine town of Kramatorsk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Maxim Dondyuk, Russian Reporter magazine)

( – President Obama on March 20 signed an executive order authorizing sanctions targeting sectors of the Russian economy, but since then, administration officials have done nothing more than repeatedly warn that such measures will be imposed unless Moscow changes course.

Although the warnings have gone unheeded by the Kremlin, the administration has yet to take action.

After a second consecutive weekend of pro-Russian demonstrations and seizures of government facilities in eastern Ukraine, the State Department alleged Sunday that “Russia is now using the same tactics that it used in Crimea in order to foment separatism, undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, and exercise control over its neighbor.”

Below is a timeline of the warnings from Obama and various administration officials relating to the so-called “sectoral” sanctions” facing Russia, in the 25 days since the executive order was signed:

President Obama, March 20:

“[T]he world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine. For this reason, we’ve been working closely with our European partners to develop more severe actions that could be taken if Russia continues to escalate the situation. As part of that process, I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions not just on individuals but on key sectors of the Russian economy.”

National security advisor Susan Rice, March 21:

“[T]he executive order that President Obama signed yesterday … gives us the ability as needed to target particular sectors to be designated within the Russian economy, should the circumstances necessitate.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, March 24:

“[In a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry] pointed to the sanctions announced last week and the new executive order signed by President Obama that provides the flexibility to sanction specific industries if Russia continues to take escalatory steps.”

Obama, in a speech in Brussels, March 26:

“Together, we are imposing costs through sanctions that have left a mark on Russia and those accountable for its actions.  And if the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we will ensure that this isolation deepens. Sanctions will expand.”

Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, on Air Force One, March 26:

“[B]ased on what we’ve already done, you’ve already seen that impact on the Russian economy. And as the president said in his speech, that’s going to continue, based on their current actions in Crimea, and it would escalate substantially if the Russians escalate the situation.”

Obama, in Rome, March 27:

“The sanctions that the United States and the European Union have imposed will continue to grow if Russia doesn’t change course.”

Harf, March 27:

“We have said that there will be further consequences if Russia does not take a step back from the brink here and de-escalate the situation.”

Harf, March 28:

“There will be further consequences that will hurt Russia even more and further isolate them, whether it’s diplomatically, economically, or militarily from the rest of the world if they do. A number of steps are on the table right now.”

Harf, March 31:

“The president was clear in his speech in Brussels that we’re prepared to undertake more sanctions, more actions, if Russia continues to escalate, but was also clear that there’s a diplomatic path forward here.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney, March 31:

“There will be potentially more and more serious consequences imposed by the United States and our partners should Russia engage in further acts that violate Ukraine’s integrity.”

Carney, April 3:

“We’ve also made clear that should Russia engage in further provocations, take more actions that violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, that there would be more consequences, more costs.  And those would include potentially sanctions aimed at sectors of the Russian economy.”

White House deputy press secretary Jay Carney Josh Earnest, April 4:

“We stand ready and are prepared to place on additional sanctions if necessary.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, April 7:

“[I]f Russian forces move into eastern Ukraine either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation … Obviously, we’ve been very clear that if they continue to take escalatory steps, then we are open to taking additional sanctions steps. And the executive order the president signed gives us broad authority and flexibility to sanction industries.”

Carney, April 7:

“In order to resolve and de-escalate the situation, Russia needs to move those troops back from the border region and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government. As I noted before, we are prepared to impose further sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy should the situation escalate.”

“We are concerned about the presence of those troops.  We’re concerned about developments within eastern Ukraine.  And we’ve made clear, as you noted, that further transgressions by Russia will be met with and responded to by further sanctions, including in the areas outlined in the executive order the president signed.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 8:

“[I]t is clear that the United States and our closest partners are united in this effort despite the costs and willing to put in effect tough new sanctions on those orchestrating this action and on key sectors of the Russian economy. In energy, banking, mining – they’re all on the table. And President Obama has already signed an executive order to implement these actions if Russia does not end its pressure and aggression on Ukraine.”

Psaki, April 9:

“Well, I’m not going to make a prediction, but I will remind all of you that when the president signed the executive order just a couple of weeks ago, we gave ourselves extensive flexibility to not only put in place sanctions for additional individuals, whether they’re Ukrainian or Russian officials, but also sectors, so all of those remain an option. We look at escalatory steps, whether that’s military steps or steps including the events over the last couple of days in eastern Ukraine, but I don’t have any announcements or predictions to make for all of you in terms of a next round of sanctions.”

Carney, onboard Air Force One, April 9:

“I would say that, again, we urge Russia to refrain from provocative actions and to instead pursue a path of de-escalation. The cost of further escalation, of further transgressions and provocations I think are clear to the Russians. The authorities exist under the executive orders the president signed to increase sanctions on Russia.”

Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland, in remarks to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, April 9:

“[T]oday we are considering further measures in response to Russia’s continued pressure on Ukraine.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, ABC’s This Week, April 13:

“The president has made clear that depending on Russian behavior, sectoral sanctions against energy, banking, mining could be on the table … If actions like the kind that we've seen over the last few days continue, you're going to see a ramping up of those sanctions.”

See also: 
Crimea Crisis: A Timeline of US Appeals, and Russian Defiance (Feb. 22- March 19)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow