President Vladimir Putin on Friday made light of the latest US sanctions against his aides over the Ukraine crisis, saying Moscow would hold off on reciprocal punitive measures.
“You know, both in the first case — the American sanctions — and in the second case — the introduction of a visa regime with Ukraine — I think we should for now hold off on reciprocal steps,” Putin told a meeting of his Security Council.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama announced fresh punitive measures against 20 lawmakers, officials and billionaires believed to be close to Putin.
In Moscow, targeted officials derided the measures even though a new round of sanctions proved biting, with shares tumbling and ratings agencies Standard and Poor’s and Fitch changing Russia’s outlook to negative from stable.
Putin also signed off on legislation completing a legal procedure to absorb Crimea into Russia after the upper house of parliament ratified a treaty on the peninsula.
The president ordered the incorporation of the Russian-speaking peninsula to be celebrated later Friday with firework displays over Moscow and the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, which hosts the Russian Black Sea fleet, his spokesman said.
Putin also said he would open an account with a bank targeted by the Washington sanctions, which came in response to Kremlin’s decision to send troops to Crimea and subsequent move to make it part of Russian territory.
Putin said he would task his aides with transferring his salary to Bank Rossiya described by Washington as a “crony bank” for the Russian elite.
“No doubt we should not only protect but also render every possible assistance to the bank’s clients,” Putin added, speaking to Russian journalists.
– Negative outlook –
Putin, known for his dark sense of humour, also suggested he should steer clear of the officials targeted by the US.
“You have to stay away from them, they are compromising us,” he said to laughter.
Participants of the Security Council meeting included several of the blacklisted officials, among them Ivanov and Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.
The Fitch ratings agency on Friday revised its outlook for Russia to negative from stable, saying that the EU and the United States are likely to extend sanctions further.
Standard and Poor’s revised the outlook for Russia to negative from stable on Thursday.
But Russia’s Alfa-Bank said sanctions would have a limited effect and “negative sentiment will be emotional in nature”.
Visa and Mastercard have stopped servicing the credit cards of customers using the banks affected by the Washington blacklists.
Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko was targeted by the sanctions shortly after selling his stake in Swiss-based commodity trading company Gunvor.
The company said Timchenko offloaded all his shares in the company he founded after “anticipating potential economic sanctions”.
Russia on Thursday said it was introducing travel bans against nine US officials.
That came in response to an announcement by Washington on Monday of financial sanctions on seven top Russian government officials and lawmakers.
“I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off,” US Senator John McCain, one of the nine US officials on the Russian blacklist, quipped on Twitter.
“Well, Jonnie, never say never!” replied Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is on the US sanctions list.