Obama to approve new Russian sanctions
The bill, which cleared the Senate last week, also gives the president authority to provide $350 million in lethal and nonlethal military aid to the Ukrainian government.
That potential aid includes anti-tank weapons, munitions and surveillance drones. The bill also authorizes the president to impose new sanctions on Russia's defense and energy sectors, if Russian firms sell or transfer military equipment to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova or Syria.
However, the legislation does not make the sanctions or military aid mandatory.
In announcing the decision, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president continued to have misgivings about the bill, known as the Ukraine Freedom Support Act. But he said Obama chose to let the bill become law because "it preserve the president's flexibility" to carry out strategy and to coordinate any further punitive measures with European allies.
The White House move came as Russia's economy continued to reel from the collapsing ruble as Moscow faces the specter of recession.
Analysts attribute the Russian crisis to plummeting global oil prices and to earlier Western sanctions slapped on Moscow for its alleged support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
NATO analysts and European monitors in eastern Ukraine have repeatedly reported the presence of Russian military hardware and soldiers fighting alongside rebels.
The Kremlin has denied supplying direct aid to rebels and has said Russian troops fighting inside Ukraine are doing so as volunteers. ■