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Obama ruled out military engagement with Russia, but did the U.S. just move toward financial war?

The Daily Ticker
The Daily Ticker
Daily Ticker

Russia's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a treaty to annex Crimea from Ukraine Thursday morning, while President Obama announced new sanctions against Russia. Obama said they target more senior officials in the Russian government, a bank that provides "material" support to Russia, and Obama said the U.S. is prepared to sanction business sectors.

Related: 'The Russians are not finished': Sanctions won't stop Putin, says Eurasia Group's Sparks

While Obama has ruled out any military engagement with Russia, Death of Money author James Rickards tells us the U.S. has already moved toward financial warfare with the use of sanctions (prior to the new sanctions announced Thursday, the U.S. had announced sanctions against seven key Russian officials).

"Financial warfare is really all we have ... the U.S. has to be seen as doing something," he tells us in the above video. Rickards, also the portfolio manager of the West Shore Funds, does not expect the U.S. will levy severe sanctions against Russia because Russia can fight back. He argues if the U.S. does something more extreme like freeze Putin's assets, Russia can refuse to pay dollar debt or freeze U.S. assets -- even unleash their hackers to take down the NYSE.

"No one wants to go there," Rickards says. "Doing weak sanctions ten times is not the same as doing strong sanctions once. The fact that the president has new sanctions today does not mean they will be effective."

Russia did announce sanctions against nine U.S. government officials in retaliation Thursday. Lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner were included in the list.

A Kremlin aide Thursday said Western sanctions don't have much sting. And we've heard rhetoric from a Putin advisor that Russia can dodge any U.S. sanctions by switching to other currencies and creating its own payment system, but Rickards says that isn't really feasible in the short run. Check out the video to see why.

Related: Putin blinks, stocks rally: Ukraine crisis shows power of global markets

When it comes to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Simon Johnson, an MIT professor and former chief economist at the IMF, tells us there are still "a lot of unpredictable elements" including what Mr. Putin wants to do next. Johnson says this could include a confrontation related to gas, and further sanctions or disruptions of financial flows going both ways -- risks that could impact the EU.

When it comes to what the West should do in response to these risks, Johnson says the key thing is to help Ukrainians get the economy properly reformed and growing. Check out the video below to find out what Johnson thinks about the IMF's response to the Crimea crisis.

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