After the Obama administration on Monday hit 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials with sanctions — a move criticized by Republican lawmakers as too timid — Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted Wednesday by the Interfax news agency as saying the country may have to alter its position on the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
The statement is the most serious threat of retaliation by Moscow since the disputed Crimea region voted to join Russia over the weekend, and Vladimir Putin’s government moved to annex the peninsula.
NATO and U.S. leaders say they’re prepared to do more.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the administration is looking to expand the sanctions further. “If you look at the executive orders, they provide a great deal of flexibility and an expansive range potential designations for sanctions including Russian government officials, the arms sector of Russia, and individuals who, while not holding positions within the Russian government, have influence over or provide material support to senior Russian government officials,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday called Russia’s advances in Ukraine a “wake-up call” — and the “gravest threat to Europe since end of Cold War.”
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., he also said NATO, as a first step, is suspending joint planning for operations removing chemical weapons from Syria.
Meanwhile, leading members of Congress are demanding that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe immediately deploy international monitors to eastern and southern Ukraine.
A letter sent by Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, and six other lawmakers says monitors are needed to defuse tensions in Ukraine after Russia’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula. The lawmakers visited Ukraine last week and say Russia is using “provocateurs and intelligence agents to brazenly stir trouble” in eastern Ukraine as a possible “manipulated pretext for additional military action.”
The OSCE is a 57-nation body based in Vienna, and Russia has thus far blocked such a deployment.
FoxNews.com / The Associated Press contributed to this report.