MOSCOW >>There is no need for Russia to further retaliate against U.S. sanctions, President Vladimir Putin said Friday as Russia’s upper house of parliament endorsed the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Moscow made its first retaliatory shot on Thursday by banning nine U.S. officials and lawmakers from entering Russia, but Putin indicated that Russia would likely refrain from curtailing cooperation in areas such as Afghanistan. Moscow appears to hope to limit the damage from the latest U.S. and EU sanctions and avoid further Western blows.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s prime minister pulled his nation closer into Europe’s orbit by signing a political association agreement with the European Union at a summit of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a second round of sanctions targeting about two dozen members of Putin’s inner circle and a major bank supporting them.
Putin said in televised remarks at Friday’s session of the presidential Security Council that he sees no immediate need for further Russian retaliation and said sardonically that he would open an account in the targeted bank.
Putin’s statement appeared to signal to the West that Russia wants to maintain cooperation in other areas despite the tensions over Ukraine. He said that Russia will keep funding a program to service Afghan helicopters and train their crews that has been conducted jointly with NATO.
Russia is expected to play a major role in the planned withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces from Afghanistan later this year by providing transit corridors via its territory, and Putin’s statement seems to indicate that the Kremlin at this stage has no intention to shut the route in response to U.S. and EU sanctions.
Russia’s upper house of parliament voted unanimously Friday to incorporate Crimea, after Sunday’s hastily called referendum in which residents of the Black Sea peninsula overwhelmingly backed breaking off from Ukraine and joining Russia. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote, held two weeks after Russian troops had taken over Crimea.
The move, already approved by the lower house, is set to be completed later in the day with Putin’s signature.
Meanwhile in Brussels, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and EU leaders signed an association agreement that was part of the pact that former President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of last November in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia. That decision sparked the protests that ultimately led to his downfall and flight last month, setting off one of Europe’s worst political crises since the Cold War.
Mike Corder in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.