U.S. businesses are warning that potential broad economic sanctions levied against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory could harm U.S. companies operating in the Russian market.
So far, U.S. President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions only on Russian officials, businessmen, and a bank seen as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But he has also signed an executive order allowing similar measures against specific sectors of the Russian economy that U.S. business leaders say could hurt their bottom line.
"The actual sanctions have been targeted, but the potential sanctions contemplated in the most recent executive order would do real damage to U.S. companies with no predictable result regarding Russian responses," USA Engage, a Washington-based coalition of business groups, said in a statement on March 21.
The level of U.S. investment in Russia is significantly smaller than the European Union's but is nonetheless "substantial," according to USA Engage, which said multilateral sanctions were preferable to those introduced unilaterally.
"Before sanctions are broadened into veritable financial warfare, USA Engage believes that U.S. decision-makers should fully understand the costs thereof and act only in full concert with the EU and other allies," the coalition said.
William Reinsch, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, said U.S. companies were worried about possible retaliatory measures against their businesses by the Russian government, Bloomberg reported.
Business Interests 'May Be Sacrificed'
U.S. business groups have met with senior Obama administration officials to express their concerns about the potential impact of sanctions, which the administration says could be extended to sectors of the Russian economy such as energy, financial services, engineering, and metals and mining.
U.S. manufacturers are "deeply concerned over ongoing events" concerning Russia's annexation of Ukraine and Washington's response, said Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs with the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based advocacy group.
"We continue to seek to safeguard manufacturing employees and manufacturers' investments around the world," Dempsey said in e-mailed comments. "Historically, multilateral sanctions have been more effective than unilateral sanctions in achieving our objectives."
Senior U.S. officials and lawmakers, however, have suggested that U.S. business interests in Russia may become an unfortunate but necessary consequence of ratcheting up the pressure over Moscow's moves in Crimea and possible further incursions into other parts of Ukraine.
U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), a relentless Putin critic, said during a conference call hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington on March 21 that he was aware of such impact. "I don't think that this is without cost to American and European business," he said. "I'm very much concerned about that. But what are the options? Do nothing?"
During the same call, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat-Illinois) noted that the more than 800 members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, including some of the largest companies in the United States, have advocated creating a broad international coalition to maximize the effect of sanctions.
"These companies and the business they do are central to the Russian economy, as many Russian activities in the United States are important to their economy. So I think the notion that they face even targeted economic sanctions will be felt in Russia," Durbin said. "And if we can do that with strong bipartisan support in America and the support of our NATO allies, it will be credible."
An unidentified U.S. Treasury official was quoted by Bloomberg as saying this week that companies that may be impacted by the sanctions should have understood the risks associated with investing in Russia.
Obama will travel to Brussels next week to meet with the United States' partners in the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries and said he intends to discuss the Ukraine crisis with his counterparts there.
USA Engage President Richard Sawaya, whose group has met with several Obama administration officials, said he hoped Obama will persuade U.S. allies during the meetings that if sanctions are to be imposed on Russia, they should be multilateral. "I would hope that kind of close coordination and communication would prevail," he said.