WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama will sign into law a bill passed by Congress to tighten sanctions against Russia over its Ukraine incursion, the White House said Tuesday amid a dramatic run on the ruble.
“The president does intend to sign the bill,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, while adding “it does preserve the president’s flexibility to carry out this strategy.”
The US Congress on Saturday unanimously passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which includes fresh sanctions against Moscow over its support of the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
It also authorizes – but does not legally require – Obama to provide lethal and non-lethal military aid to Ukraine including anti-tank weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday branded the new sanctions as hostile.
The measures hit Russia’s defence and energy sectors with conditional sanctions against firms that sell or transfer military equipment to the territory of Ukraine (as well as Georgia, Moldova and Syria), with the goal of stopping the flow of weapons to separatists across the border.
The new sanctions would come at a moment when Moscow is in economic turmoil as a result of plunging oil prices. The ruble crashed to an unprecedented low on Tuesday, trading at 80 rubles to the dollar.
Obama has consistently reiterated it would be a mistake to take unilateral US action without coordinating with Washington’s European Union allies.
Earnest admitted, however, the new sanctions passed by Congress, which could be signed by Obama this week, risked sending a “confusing message” to US allies.