Putin’s sanctions on Americans unite Democrats, GOP

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures after signing a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. The crisis over Crimea is more than a dispute over whether the strategic Black Sea peninsula should be considered Russian or Ukrainian. At its root is a deeper issue: Russia’s simmering anger over its treatment by the West since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia’s biggest grievance has been the absorption into the NATO alliance not only of former Soviet allies, such as Poland and Romania, but also three republics that were part of the Soviet Union: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The last straw was a European Union move to draw Ukraine closer to the West through a political association agreement. That set off a chain of events that led to the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president and, ultimately, to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Vladimir Putin probably didn’t expect that newly announced Russian sanctions on nine Americans – three top White House aides, three Republicans and three Democrats in Congress – would spark a bipartisan love-in in Washington.

But that’s exactly what happened on Thursday as Moscow retaliated for expanded U.S. sanctions by freezing the assets of a select handful of high-profile Americans and banning them from travel inside Russia.

Here’s an early response from a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Twitter to Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to President Obama, for making the list:

Some of the lawmakers on the list had a quick public reaction to the news and expressed defiance — which is not hard to do when you likely have neither assets in Russia nor plans to travel there.

The other Americans on Russia’s list of people to block included Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Caroline Atkinson, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, and Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

“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," Coats said. "Putin’s recent aggression is unacceptable, and America must join with our European allies to isolate and punish Russia. I will continue to lead efforts on Capitol Hill to bring Putin to his senses.”

“Being sanctioned by President Putin is a badge of honor,” Landrieu said. “It will not stop me from using my power as chair of the Energy Committee to promote America as an energy superpower and help increase energy exports around the world.

"And it most certainly will not stop me from advocating for orphans in Russia and around the world,” she added.

Coats and Landrieu are the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

The list appeared to show that Russia agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the scheduled Group of Eight summit in Sochi, Russia, was dead. Rhodes, Pfeiffer, and Atkinson would likely have made the trip with Obama.

The Russian sanctions resembled the first round of American measures targeting prominent Russians backing Putin’s annexation of Crimea, which drew a similarly mocking response in Moscow. Russia’s measures did not affect anyone at the Pentagon, or any businesses with economic interests in Russia.

But the new round of American sanctions broadened the field considerably, reaching into Putin’s inner circle and for the first time affecting an institution, a bank. Obama further warned that the United States would go after entire sectors of Russia’s economy if Putin pushes ahead in Ukraine, perhaps by trying to carve a slice of eastern Ukraine off the rest of the country.

Behind the scenes, on email and over the telephone, officials in Washington reacted largely with amusement — and sometimes amused confusion. An aide to one person on the list, asked why their boss had been included, laughed and responded: “As soon as you find out, would you call back and let me know?”

And some officials expressed mock outrage at being left off the list. Here’s Michael Mershon, spokesman for Rep. Jim McGovern, D.-Mass., a frequent and fierce critic of Russia: