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Tit for Tat: Russia hits US officials with sanctions, as Obama expands penalties

 

The Russian government slapped sanctions on top U.S. officials on Thursday, moments after President Obama imposed penalties on 20 Russians inside and outside the government -- as diplomatic efforts over Ukraine unraveled into a long-distance tit for tat. 

The newest sanctions would bar nine American officials from entering Russia. The list includes House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Just as Vladimir Putin's government shrugged off U.S. sanctions earlier in the week, so did the Americans targeted by Moscow. 

"I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen," McCain quipped in a statement. "Nonetheless, I will never cease my efforts on behalf of the freedom, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea." 

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker "is proud to be included on a list of those willing to stand against Putin's aggression." 

As each side imposes sanctions, left unclear is whether any of them will have an effect on the standoff over Russia's widely challenged annexation of Crimea. 

Putin said in televised remarks at Friday's session of the presidential Security Council that he sees no immediate need for further Russian retaliation against the U.S. and said sardonically that he would open an account in the Russian bank targeted by the latest U.S. sanctions. 

Obama, warning of more costs to come for the Kremlin if the situation worsens, said he also signed an executive order that would allow the U.S. to penalize key sectors of the Russian economy. Officials said Obama could act on that authority if Russian forces press into other areas of Ukraine, an escalation of the crisis in Crimea. 

The president, speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, voiced concern that Russian military positioning could point to "further incursions" into southern and eastern Ukraine. 

The president cautioned that the threatened economic measures if implemented could hurt the global economy, as well as the Russian economy, but "Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community." 

For the time being, Obama said the U.S. will levy sanctions on more "senior officials of the Russian government," as well as "a number of individuals" supporting Russian leadership -- and a bank, Bank Rossiya, that is likewise providing "material support." The list includes Putin's chief of staff and his banker. 

The president, in an interview a day earlier, effectively ruled out U.S. military action over Crimea. He and top officials, though, continue to assure NATO allies in the region that America's support is "unwavering." 

Obama stressed Thursday that "diplomacy between the United States and Russia continues." 

The new penalties mark the second round of economic sanctions the U.S. has levied on Russia this week. The first round of penalties -- on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials -- had little impact in stopping Moscow from annexing the strategically important Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Meanwhile on Thursday the European Union announced that it has slapped sanctions on 12 more people linked to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, bringing the number of people facing EU sanctions to 33.

The 28-nation bloc did not immediately release the names of those it had targeted with travel bans and asset freezes, but they are expected to close in on members of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle to punish him in the escalating Ukrainian crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.