U.S. senators, congressmen and top Obama administration officials are sure to be on Vladimir Putin’s sanctions list; a response to the Obama Administration’s announcement on Monday that 7 Russian officials and 4 Ukrainian officials would be barred from holding assets or traveling to the United States.
Putin is expected to release his retaliation list as early as Tuesday and while the final list is still being crafted, it will include top Obama administration officials and high profile U.S. senators, in an effort to roughly mirror the U.S. sanctions against Russian officials and lawmakers, according to diplomatic sources. At the top of the list in Congress is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who recently co-authored a resolution criticizing Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
Durbin’s inclusion on Putin’s list would mirror Obama’s naming of Valentina Matvienko, the head of the upper chamber of the Russian Duma. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not expected to be on the Russian sanctions list.
Sen. John McCain, who traveled to Kiev last weekend to meet with Ukrainian leaders, told The Daily Beast that he expects to be on the list and is happy about it.
“You think I’m not going to be on it?” McCain said. “I would be honored to be on that list.”
McCain said he would not be impacted financially by being subject to a visa ban and asset freeze in the Russian Federation.
“I guess I’m going to have to try to withdraw my money from my secret account in St. Petersburg,” he joked.
Other names that could be on the Russian sanctions list, although not confirmed, include Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who are leading the sanctions drive in the Senate, and Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, who has been heavily involved in working with the Ukrainian opposition that ousted the Yanokovich government.
One U.S. official who can rest easy is White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who will not be on Putin’s sanctions list. Carney is rumored to be lobbying to replace former Ambassador Mike McFaul as the next U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, who will also not be on the list.
The tit for tat sanctions are not likely to convince either side to back down from their position over the Russian invasion of Crimea, McCain said.“If we acquiesced to that, that would be a green light for him to go for Moldova, where there are also Russian troops,” said McCain. “That’s the problem with this appeasement policy.”
McCain is advocating for a series of more serious steps, which include the immediate arming of the Ukrainian military, which the administration has rejected for now, promising to help the Ukrainian military develop over the long term, rethinking U.S. approaches to Putin, and restarting U.S. missile defense projects in Eastern Europe.
There are signs that Putin is preparing a scenario ahead of a possible invasion of Eastern Ukraine, including sending Russian intelligence agents inside Ukraine to stir up unrest as a pretext for a possible expansion of the invasion.
“I’m not sure about Eastern Ukraine, but Putin has put everything in place for a de facto partition of Eastern Ukraine,” he said. “Will he do it? I don’t know. But I don’t think he can be discouraged from that by these limited actions by the United States… We must commit to the ultimate return of Crimea to Ukraine, just as we promised to the so called captive that they would eventually be free of Soviet domination.”
Administration officials said that today’s actions were just initial steps, meant to increase pressure on Putin but also allowing him the opportunity to deescalate before the U.S. moves forward with further sanctions designations. The U.S. could increase sanctions to include Russian business leaders and institutions that are determined to be aiding officials implicated in the Crimea invasion.
“Our actions today demonstrate our firm commitment to holding those responsible accountable for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement. “We are thoroughly prepared to take increasing and responsive steps that would impose further political and economic costs. At the same time, we want to be clear that a path of de-escalation remains available to the Russians, should they choose to use it."