“The President has signed an Executive Order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; contributing to the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine; or purporting to assert governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without authorization from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv,” said the White House in a statement.
The White House called the order a “flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea.”
In addition, the State Department now has the power to deny visas to individuals determined to be “responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“This new step stands in addition to the policy already implemented to deny visas to those involved in human rights abuses related to political oppression in Ukraine,” the statement added.
Senior administration officials said they have yet to pull the trigger on the sanctions and target specific entities or individuals as they continue to try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to de-escalate the situation in Crimea.
“[The authority to impose sanctions] is now in place and we will be looking to use it in response to developments on the ground,” an administration official told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning.
“This should send a strong message that we intend to impose costs on Russia ... at the same time there continues to be a way to de-escalate the situation” in Crimea, the official said.
The steps are the latest effort by the administration to pressure Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
The U.S. and other powers have called the incursion a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law, and Obama threatened that there would be “costs” for the military move.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is only trying to protect the safety of Ukraine's ethnic Russians after an interim government in Kiev removed the former president, Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych, from power.
Putin has refused to back down and despite his claims that Moscow did not seek to take over the Crimea, reports Thursday said that the region’s pro-Russian government had set a date for elections on leaving Ukraine.
The White House said that the administration is “pursuing and reviewing a wide range of options” to respond to Russia and that the measures taken did not “preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.”
The U.S. has already taken a number of steps to punish Russia and boost Ukraine’s interim government, including offering a $1 billion loan guarantee program, suspending U.S. military engagement and trade talks, as well as putting on hold any preparations for U.S. participation in the upcoming G-8 summit in Russia.
The European Union is also offering $15 billion in assistance to help Ukraine's economy, which is heavily dependent on trade and energy subsidies from Moscow.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they will quickly approve the U.S. aid package and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is calling for the administration to ease the export of natural gas to Ukraine.
The White House though said there was still time to “achieve a diplomatic solution that de-escalates the situation and restores Ukraine’s sovereignty,” calling for Russia to begin talks with Ukraine, immediately withdraw troops back to their bases and allow for international observers in Crimea.