As tensions rise in Ukraine, a senior White House official Sunday said the US will increase sanctions on Russia this week, including measures meant to punish President Vladimir Putin’s wealthy inner circle. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports, the US is investigating what is believed to be Mr. Putin’s substantial personal wealth.
Making the rounds of Sunday TV news show, deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken detailed the effects that he said current sanctions have had on Russia: financial markets down 22 percent since the beginning of the year, the ruble at an all-time low, $70 billion in capital moved out of the country.
Additional US sanctions to be imposed as soon as Monday, together with new sanctions from the other G-7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom), will have "a significant impact on the Russian economy,” Mr. Blinken said.
"We'll be looking at taking steps as well with regard to high technology exports to their defense industry,” he said. “All of this together is going to have an impact.”
Blinken said the sanctions are aimed at a compact Putin made with the Russian people to deliver economic growth in exchange for political complacency. The penalties are making fulfillment of his promise difficult for Putin.
"We're already seeing projection for growth going into under 1 percent this year. So that compact is eroding and he has very hard choices to make," Blinken said.
Blinken appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," CBS' "Face the Nation" and NBC's "Meet the Press."
In a statement Friday, G-7 leaders said, “We reiterate our strong condemnation of Russia's illegal attempt to annex Crimea and Sevastopol, which we do not recognize.”
“We have now agreed that we will move swiftly to impose additional sanctions on Russia,” the seven leaders said. “Given the urgency of securing the opportunity for a successful and peaceful democratic vote next month in Ukraine's presidential elections, we have committed to act urgently to intensify targeted sanctions and measures to increase the costs of Russia's actions.”
Speaking at a news conference in Malaysia Sunday, President Obama said, “We’re going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified, rather than this is just a US-Russian conflict.”
Such comments are meant to counter Putin’s assertion that the US is reviving the Cold War between what used to be the world’s two superpowers or attempting to separate Ukraine from Moscow’s sphere of influence.
Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation,” Sen. Bob Corker, (R) of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said sanctions so far are "not creating the kind of pain within Russia that will cause Putin to change his behavior."
"To me, hitting four of the largest banks there would send shockwaves into the economy. Hitting Gazprom would certainly send shockwaves into the economy," Sen. Corker said, referring to Russia's state gas monopoly.
Senior EU diplomats will meet on Monday to discuss the next steps and are expected to add 15 more names to a list of Russians subject to asset freezes and a travel ban, Reuters reports.
Whether or not something like that would ever include Putin – directly or indirectly – remains an open question.
“For years, the suspicion that Mr. Putin has a secret fortune has intrigued scholars, industry analysts, opposition figures, journalists and intelligence agencies but defied their efforts to uncover it,” the New York Times reported Sunday. “Numbers are thrown around suggesting that Mr. Putin may control $40 billion or even $70 billion, in theory making him the richest head of state in world history.”
Trying to put the pinch on Putin’s personal wealth in addition to that of his wealthy associates – if indeed he is a wealthy man – would amount to “nuclear” escalation, the Times reports.
“Some Obama administration officials have argued for releasing details of what the United States knows about Mr. Putin’s wealth to expose him to the Russian public, a suggestion so far resisted by the White House,” according to the Times report. “Some lawmakers in Congress are discussing legislation to require the administration to publish an estimate of Mr. Putin’s overall worth.”
Putin and Obama have spoken directly about the crisis in Ukraine several times in recent weeks, most recently in a call initiated by Putin on April 14.
But writing for the Daily Beast, senior correspondent for national security and politics Josh Rogin reports that “these calls are now on hold for the indefinite future, due to their lack of progress and frustration on both sides.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.