WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed legislation Thursday authorizing new sanctions on Russia but said he does not plan to impose the penalties outlined in the measure.
White House officials have said Obama has concerns that the measure was not in line with his policy of enacting sanctions in tandem with the European Union. The U.S. and Europe have sought to present a united front against Russia over Moscow’s provocations in Ukraine.
“Signing this legislation does not signal a change in the administration’s sanctions policy, which we have carefully calibrated in accordance with developments on the ground and coordinated with our allies and partners,” Obama said in a statement. He added that he could use the authorities included in the measure “if circumstances warranted.”
The legislation required the president to impose penalties on a Russian state-owned arms dealer and other defense companies, but it also gave him the ability to waive the penalties.
White Houses sometimes chafe at congressionally-mandated sanctions because revoking the penalties requires legislative action. Obama has told Russian President Vladimir Putin he would roll back U.S. sanctions if Russia stopped meddling in Ukraine, but keeping that promise would potentially be more cumbersome considering the penalties approved on Capitol Hill.
Even as Obama skirts the sanctions included in the legislation, the U.S. and EU are moving forward with other penalties. On Thursday, the EU imposed a ban on investment in Crimea, the strategically important peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier this year. The U.S. is expected to soon announce a similar package of penalties.
The legislation also gives the president the authority to send Ukraine anti-tank weapons, counter-artillery radar and tactical surveillance drones. However, administration officials said previously that Obama was not expected to act on that authority.
Ukrainian officials have been pressing the U.S. to supply its military with weapons and ammunition to fight Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. Obama has resisted those requests because he fears lethal assistance would antagonize Russia and perhaps spur Moscow to launch a full-scale invasion.