Talk, Not Action: Administration Again Warns Russia of ‘Sectoral’ Sanctions

By Patrick Goodenough | April 13, 2014 | 8:44 PM EDT

Armed pro-Russian activists occupy the police station carrying riot shields as people watch on, in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

( – With Ukraine hovering on the brink of open conflict allegedly instigated by Russian agents, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Sunday that sanctions targeting sectors of the Russian economy “could be on the table.”

Administration officials have made similar warnings more than a dozen times since President Obama signed an executive order 25 days ago, providing the authority for such “sectoral” sanctions. Although officials continues to accuse Russian of an escalating campaign of provocation, those sanctions remain in the arsenal, unused.

This weekend saw a serious rise in tensions in eastern Ukraine, with pro-Moscow demonstrators accompanied by gunmen, allegedly Russian special forces agents, seizing and occupying government buildings. There were reports of gunfire in some areas and of injuries and at least one death.

The State Department on Sunday evening described the events as “a coordinated and professional operation conducted in six cities in eastern Ukraine.”

“The events of April 12 strongly suggest that in eastern Ukraine 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 in contravention of Russia’s obligations under international law,” it said .

Ukraine’s interim president, Aleksandr Turchinov, set a Monday morning deadline for rebels to evacuate the occupied government facilities or face what he described as an anti-terrorist operation.

Russia in turn called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Sunday night, claiming that the interim administration in Kiev – which Moscow does not recognize – is instigating a civil war.

Hours before the Security Council was due to meet, Power said that the latest events in Ukraine bore “the telltale signs of Moscow's involvement” and “the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea.”

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, the ambassador to the U.N. said that a package of sanctions imposed by the U.S. last month – visa bans and asset freezes on senior Russian figures and sanctions against a key bank – have already had an impact on the Russian stock market and currency.

And she raised, yet again, the scepter of sectoral sanctions.

“The president has made clear that depending on Russian behavior, sectoral sanctions against energy, banking, mining could be on the table,” she said. “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.”

Since Obama on March 20 signed the authority for those sanctions, Russia has incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation, stormed military bases there, amassed tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine while insisting they were there for exercises, and has instigated over the last two weekends pro-Russia protests and building seizures in a number of cities in eastern Ukraine.

Power’s invoking of the sectoral sanctions possibility was the latest in a string of similar statements by administration officials, from the president down, since the executive order was signed.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow