The Obama administration is moving fast to prepare possible sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine, if President Barack Obama decides to act, senior officials say.
Over the weekend, the Treasury Department and other officials began drafting possible language for sanctions that would, if imposed, take the form of a Presidential Executive Order.
That means they would not need congressional approval.
Officials caution no decision has been made on whether to impose sanctions against Russia for its military moves in Crimea that Obama says violate international law.
Officials note the United States has already taken several diplomatic steps in the past few days. These include suspending preparations for the annual G8 summit of the world’s industrial powers, which is scheduled for the Russian Olympic venue, Sochi, in June.
The Obama administration also has canceled trade and energy talks and has withdrawn the American delegation for the Paralympics in Sochi.
One official said decisions are “expected very soon” on sanctions and it could be a “pretty fast process.”
But that official added “people have to decide what we are really going to do” and, additionally, there are a number of factors Obama has to consider.
“We have to look at where the Europeans are, how much you want to lean forward and how much you want to keep in reserve,” the official said.
Some European allies, particularly Germany and France, are balking at sanctions before giving diplomacy a chance.
“But four days ago we weren’t even having this decision with them and now we are. So a lot can happen in four more days,” another senior administration official said.
The official said the administration is “a step shy” of having an executive order ready to go for the President’s signature.
Right now the administration is deliberating who to target, the official said.
Because the U.S. response would be in response to Russia’s military activities in Crimea and moves toward separatism, the official said top Russian government and military officials would likely be targets, as could Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine.
But Russian companies and businessmen are unlikely to be sanctioned.
A congressional source said there seems to be more interest among the Europeans for ‘isolation’ rather than sanctions - severing military exercises and action around visas and the G8 – rather than steps that could hurt Europe.