Russian tycoon Vladimir Yakunin and U.S. Senator John McCain are united by one thing as their leaders square off over the fate of Ukraine: Both are wearing sanctions as a badge of honor.
“I felt uncomfortable that many of my friends were on the first list but not me,” Yakunin said in a telephone interview. “Now I am at peace.” McCain tweeted: “I’m proud to be sanctioned by Putin.”
The standoff is reviving the Cold War rhetoric that saw President Ronald Reagan label the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev declare: “We will bury you.” President Barack Obama today announced more sanctions against prominent Russians, and in a tit-for-tat move that recalls the era of spy expulsions, Vladimir Putin barred McCain and other Americans from entering the country.
Tongue-in-cheek and snarky comments by those blacklisted are rife. Andrei Fursenko, Putin’s adviser on education and science, said in an interview that he doesn’t have any U.S. assets and was simply included in sanctions because “the more the merrier.”
In the U.S, Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council spokesman -- now freed from the shackles of diplomatic constraint -- openly mocked the idea of targeting people working for Obama. “Hey Vlad, way to sanction White House officials with no money who have zero interest in visiting your country. You showed ’em!”
Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said old cold warriors in Russia and the U.S. are milking every benefit they can from the blacklists.
“They’re playing to their party faithful at home,” Erixon said in a phone interview. “It certainly won’t hurt someone like John McCain or John Boehner -- I don’t think either of these gentlemen were planning a grand tour of Russia.”
McCain, on his Twitter account, confirmed Erixon’s remark about his holiday plans. “I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, Gazprom stock is lost & secret bank account in Moscow is frozen.”
Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, mocked President Barack Obama on social media after he was placed on the U.S. sanctions list.
“I think some joker drafted the U.S. president’s decree,” Rogozin wrote on Twitter. “Comrade Obama, what are people who have no accounts or property abroad supposed to do? Or didn’t you think about that?”
Boehner, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “is proud to be included on a list of those willing to stand against Putin’s aggression,” said spokesman Michael Steel in an e-mail.
The latest U.S. action against 20 individuals, including members of the Russian government and allies of Putin, adds to the seven Russian officials and four people from Ukraine who already were subjected to sanctions. Russians targeted include billionaire Gennady Timochenko; Putin’s former KGB colleague Sergei Ivanov and aide Andrei Fursenko; and Yakunin, who is chief executive officer of OAO Russian Railways.
U.S. officials banned from entering Russia include Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez.
Erixon, while acknowledging the humor in many of the comments, said the social media storm also carries a more serious message about the Crimea crisis.
“The sanctions agreed so far have so little bite that they can be treated as a joke,” he said. “This sure isn’t going to help Ukraine.”