Barack Obama: 'Not a new Cold War'
By: Josh Gerstein
July 29, 2014 04:01 PM EDT
President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced escalated U.S. sanctions against Russia in the energy, arms and finance sectors.
“Today is a reminder that the United States means what it is says and we’ll rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” Obama said from the South Lawn of the White House. “Russia ‘s energy…financial and defense sectors are feeling the pain… Major sanctions we’re announcing today will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia including cronies and companies supporting Russia’s illegal action in Ukraine.”
Asked by a reporter if the standoff amounts to a new Cold War, Obama said it was not.
“This is not a new cold war,” the president said. “What it is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.”
Stepping up the West’s showdown with Russia , European leaders Tuesday declared plans to impose sanctions against state-owned Russian banks, as well as certain types of oil-industry equipment as well as so-called dual-use technology capable of use by the military.
Obama said the U.S. will generally match the European moves and move further to punish Russia over what U.S. officials contend is support for separatists in eastern Ukraine suspected of responsibility for the shootdown of a Malaysian passenger jet passing over the region earlier this month.
While Obama hailed the new moves, he conceded he can’t be confident they will prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to change course.
“We think that the combination of stronger us and European sanction is going to have a greater impact on the Russian economy than we’ve seen so far,” Obama said. “Obviously, we can’t in the end make President [Vladimir] Putin see more clearly. Ultimately that’s something President Putin has to do on his own.”
After Russia’s incursion into and annexation of Crimea earlier this year, European countries balked at sanctions affecting key economic sectors, such as banking. However, after the apparent shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, European leaders have taken a tougher line towards Moscow.
U.S. intelligence officials say the plane was shot down from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists, likely with a sophisticated surface-to-air missile battery provided by Russia.
On Sunday, the U.S. also released satellite images said to show shelling from Russian territory into Ukraine.
Russian officials have denied providing arms to the separatists, denied involvement with the shootdown and claimed that the photos purporting to show cross-border shelling were faked.
The U.S. kept up the fusillade of complaints against Moscow on Monday by sending Putin a letter accusing Russia of violating a nuclear arms control treaty by testing a cruise missile —though that matter appeared to have no direct connection to the showdown over Ukraine.
U.S. officials said the decision to move forward with the sanctions was cemented Monday in a videoconference between Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mateo Renzi, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who joined the session by telephone.
However, last week, a top British diplomat predicted the new round of sanctions last week, indicating that the moves were likely despite the prospect of significant “pain” for many European countries.
“It’s wrong to suggest that there is an ambivalence or that people don’t care, that we’re not actually responding to what Putin is doing. It is quite difficult. You’ve got 28 member states. The level of integration of the average European Union member state with Russia is 10 times that of the United States,” the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott, said Friday during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. “So, the level of pain that is going to be sustained, if we are going to go much further in terms of sanctions, is considerable.”
London banks are likely to feel some impact from the new sanctions, since financial institutions there hold and invest money for Russian firms and individuals. But the largest impact could be in Germany, if Russia retaliates by cutting off or hiking the price of natural gas many German citizens and businesses depend on.
The new European sanctions will block future arms sales to Russia, but won’t upset existing deals, such as a French contract to sell a pair of sophisticated warships to Moscow.