Mikhail Klimentyev, Associated Press
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.
While Russia quickly moved toward finalizing its annexation of Crimea, with the upper house of endorsing it in a unanimous vote, 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 against nearly two dozen members of Putin's inner circle and a major bank supporting them.
The sanctions, which targeted Putin's chief of staff along with other senior Kremlin aides and four businessmen considered to be his lifelong friends, dealt a painful blow to the Kremlin. Obama also warned that more sweeping penalties against Russia's economy, including its robust energy sector, could follow.
International rating agencies downgraded Russia's outlook, and Russian stock plummeted Friday.
Putin tried to play down the sanctions' toll on Russia in televised remarks at Friday's session of the presidential Security Council, saying that "we should keep our distance from those people who compromise us," a jocular reference to the officials on the sanctions list.
He added sardonically that he would open an account in the targeted Bank Rossiya, a private bank that is owned by Yuri Kovalchuk, who is considered to be Putin's longtime friend and banker. With about $10 billion in assets, Rossiya ranks as the 17th largest bank in Russia and maintains numerous ties to banks in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
At the same time, Putin said that that he sees no immediate need for further Russian retaliation to the U.S. sanctions, a stance that reflected an apparent hope to limit further damage to ties with the West that have plummeted to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
"We must refrain from retaliatory steps for now," Putin said.
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.
"We must continue that cooperation even though our NATO partners intend to freeze it," Putin said. "I believe this work represents our common interests, and we need to strengthen the Afghan government."
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.
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