March 21, 2014 08:01
U.S. officials and lawmakers have brushed off retaliatory travel bans announced by Russia shortly after President Barack Obama stepped up sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea. Six American legislators and three White House officials are now barred from travel to Russia.
The Americans include the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner. On Thursday, a Boehner spokesman said that far from being upset, "The Speaker is proud to be included on a list of those willing to stand against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's aggression."
Similar comments came from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Robert Menendez. He said, "If standing up for the Ukrainian people, their freedom, their hard-earned democracy, and sovereignty means I am sanctioned by Putin, so be it."
Also named is Republican Senator John McCain, who took to Twitter to say he will not stop working for the freedom and independence of Ukraine, including Crimea. McCain was part of a bipartisan group of senators who traveled to Ukraine recently.
No State Department officials were included in the Russian travel ban, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki summed up the Obama administration's thinking on the matter.
"What we have seen pretty universally is pride to be on the list, to be standing up for what they and what we feel is right, which is preserving the territorial integrity of Ukraine," she said.
Russia expert Jeffrey Mankoff of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Moscow's travel ban would not inconvenience any Americans named so far, but the same cannot be said of Russians sanctioned by the Obama administration.
"Russia is more vulnerable to sanctions imposed by the U.S. than the U.S. is to sanctions imposed by Russia. That said, I do not know how effective these steps taken by the U.S. government are going to be in actually affecting Russian behavior," he said.
Mankoff said the efficacy of U.S. sanctions would depend on the extent to which they were reinforced by the European Union, and whether financial hardship imposed on Russia's elites generated pressure on President Putin.
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