Obama Says New Russia Sanctions Will Have “Even Bigger Bite”

President Barack Obama speaks about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine on July 29, 2014. White House screen shot.

Autumn A. Arnett

July 31, 2014—Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Larov to “agree to a comprehensive border-monitoring mission to provide international transparency on the ongoing flows of weapons and firing of artillery from Russia into Ukraine,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

And, though Psaki noted that Lavrov indicated Russia “is willing to discuss” the terms, Pentagon Press Secretary Real Adm. John Kirby said Russian forces are continuing to gather at Ukraine’s southeast border and are still feeding “advanced weapons systems,” including multiple rocket-launched systems, artillery, tanks, and air defense systems, to separatists in the region.

The Russian-backed forces are “capable across a wide spectrum of military operations, ” Kirby said, adding the continued provocation of Russian-backed forces in the area “needs to stop,” as “it does nothing, again, to de-escalate tensions. … It only increases the risk of violence inside Ukraine.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Obama administration announced its determination that “the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a press briefing.

The 1987 treaty, signed by then-President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, prohibited the release of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers.

President Barack Obama sent a letter to Putin outlining the allegations and demanding a return to compliance, Earnest confirmed during a Tuesday afternoon briefing.

“It is correct that the concerns that we’ve had about this have been raised with [Putin], it’s correct that our concerns have been discussed inside the administration for some time, and it’s correct to assume that we’ve had conversations with our partners in the relevant committees in Congress as well,” Earnest said. He called the Russian response to the idea that the nation may have been in violation “wholly unsatisfactory.”

The news of continued Russian military build-up along Ukraine’s border comes as a new round of sanctions against Russia are being levied, in light of the downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Saying Russia has “failed to cooperate” with the investigation into the crash, and noting that Russia has not backed off on its support of Ukrainian separatists, Obama announced new penalties coming forth against Russia, including blocks on energy, arms, and finance.

“We’re blocking the exports of specific goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector,” the President said in an address from the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday afternoon. “We’re expanding our sanctions to more Russian banks and defense companies. And we’re formally suspending credit that encourages exports to Russia and financing for economic development projects in Russia.”

He announced that the European Union will also levy “the most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date” against Russia, including cutting off financing to state-owned banks, halting export of “specific goods and technologies … which will make it more difficult for Russia to develop its oil resources over the long term,” and prohibiting the import and export of new arms and sensitive military technologies.