Putin Mocks US Sanctions, Signs Crimea Accession Despite Pressure

MOSCOW - In his first reaction to a stinging set of sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on some of his closest friends and advisers, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Russia not retaliate with more sanctions.

But, in remarks to Russia's Security Council, he responded sarcastically when told about who was on the American list.

"Russia needs to avoid these citizens as they are compromising the country," he said. He also appeared to mock the Treasury Department's designation of Bank Rossiya, which it described as "the personal bank" for many senior Russian officials.

"I understand that this is a middle-sized bank," Putin said. He added that he did not have an account at Bank Rossiya, but planned to open one to start receiving his official salary there.

"The clients of the bank must be taken under our protection. We also should make sure that neither clients nor the bank will sustain any negative outcome from this situation," he said.

Putin's comments came shortly before he signed a law finalizing Crimea's unification with Russia, a sign that while Russia appears to have little appetite for a sanctions battle with the United States, this latest round of punitive measures was not enough to prevent him from completing the accession of Crimea.

Yet there were signs this morning that the sanctions are biting the Russian economy.

Russia's stock market immediately dropped nearly 3% when it opened Friday morning and the ruble, Russia's currency, ticked down versus the dollar.

Visa and Mastercard quietly stopped processing transactions for Bank Rossiya as well as another bank, SMP, which is owned by Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who were also sanctioned on Thursday.

Fitch followed fellow credit rating agency S&P in downgrading Russia's investment outlook from stable to negative, citing the threat of additional American and European sanctions.

Still, at least one more person sanctioned Thursday shrugged off the designation, which freezes any assets under American jurisdiction, prohibits traveling to the United States, and essentially freezes the individual out of international banking system.

"I felt uncomfortable that many of my friends were on the first list but not me," Vladimir Yakunin, a Russian tycoon close to Putin, told Bloomberg. "Now I am at peace."

(Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)