Russia Critics on Capitol Hill ‘Proud’ to be Sanctioned by Putin

By Patrick Goodenough | March 20, 2014 | 6:42 PM EDT

With Russian flags flying, a pro-Russian militiaman prepares to take down a Ukrainian flag at the Ukrainian Navy headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)

( – Russia’s foreign ministry on Thursday slapped “reciprocal sanctions” on nine U.S. administration officials and senior lawmakers, calling the move a response to the “hostile” actions taken by Washington against Russian officials over the Crimea annexation.

Several of the lawmakers listed scoffed at the announcement, describing it as a point of pride to be targeted by the Kremlin over their criticism of its policies.

Lawmakers on the list are House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

The administration officials listed are deputy national security advisors Ben Rhodes and Caroline Atkinson, and presidential advisor Dan Pfeiffer.

The foreign ministry said the sanctions on the nine Americans was a response to the White House announcement on March 17 of travel bans and asset freezes on seven senior Russian and four Ukrainian officials, and warned of more to come.

“There cannot be any doubts: on every hostile step we will respond in an adequate way,” it said.

That pledge will be tested directly, since President Obama said Thursday he was expanding the list of Russian officials sanctioned over the Ukraine crisis. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control named 20 more individuals as well as a bank, Bank Rossiya. A senior administration official told a background briefing the 20 included “close confidantes” of President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader himself has not been targeted.

The designated U.S. lawmakers issued statements and Twitter messages in response to their inclusion on the Russian blacklist.

“While I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to go on vacation with my family in Siberia this summer, I am honored to be on this list,” said Coats. “I will continue to lead efforts on Capitol Hill to bring Putin to his senses.”

Coats early this month introduced a Senate resolution supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and condemning Russian military aggression, calling for measures including expelling Russia from the G8 and suspending the Russia-NATO Council.

Sen. John McCain, a longstanding critic of the Kremlin, addresses protestors in the Ukraine capital Kiev on December 15, 2013, telling them “America is with you.” (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

“I'm proud to be sanctioned by Putin,” tweeted McCain, an outspoken critic of Russian policies who is himself regularly targeted for criticism in Kremlin-friendly Russian media.

“I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen,” McCain said.

“If standing up for the Ukrainian people, their freedom, their hard earned democracy, and sovereignty means I’m sanctioned by Putin, so be it,” said Menendez in a statement from Brussels, where he is holding meetings with European Union and NATO leaders on Ukraine and other issues.

“Proud to be included on a list of those willing to stand against Putin’s aggression,” Boehner said on Twitter, while Reid tweeted, “President Putin, it’s one thing to pick on me, but I wouldn’t mess with Mary [Landrieu].”

“Being sanctioned by President Putin is a badge of honor,” said Landrieu, who as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing for March 25 on expanding natural gas exports. Some lawmakers believe doing so could over time help Ukraine and other European countries reduce their reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Landrieu has also been a vocal critic of Russia’s controversial ban on American adoptions of Russian children, which came into effect from the beginning of 2013.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki – not on the list – said the response from those who were named was evidently pride “to be standing up for what they and what we feel is right, which is preserving the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

In its statement announcing the sanctions, the Russian foreign ministry said it has “repeatedly warned that applying sanctions is a double-edged issue and would hit as a boomerang the U.S.A. itself.”

“It is unacceptable and counterproductive to speak with our country in this way, as Washington could find out many times,” it said.

“However, the American side, as it seems, continues pinning faith on efficiency of such methods taken from the arsenal of the past, and does not want to admit the obvious: Crimeans have democratically and in full compliance with international law and the U.N. Charter voted for the reunification with Russia, which respects and accepts this choice. Such a decision can be pleasant or not, but this refers to reality that should be faced.”

Despite the deepening rift between Washington and Moscow, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he expects to meet next week with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in The Hague, where both will be attending an annual nuclear security summit.

Lavrov told Kerry in a phone conversation Thursday that “the decision to reunify Crimea with Russia” will not be revised, the foreign ministry in Moscow said.

Obama, who will attend the summit in The Hague, has invited the leaders of the G7 – the G8 minus Russia – to hold a meeting on the summit sidelines to discuss the Ukraine situation. Putin himself was due to take part in the nuclear summit, but the Kremlin announced this week he will not attend.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow