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Obama Expected To Impose New Sanctions On Russia

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Aides say President Obama will sign a bill authorizing new economic sections against Russia. That's in retaliation for Russia's ongoing interference in Ukraine. The Russian economy is already reeling from earlier Western sanctions and from the steep drop in oil prices. Still, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, President Vladimir Putin has resisted the mounting economic pressure to change course.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Russia's currency is in freefall, tumbling downhill on a path greased with cheap oil. The country's central bankers tried desperately this week to prop up the currency with a huge hike in interest rates that's expected to plunge the Russian economy deeper into recession.

Nevertheless, the ruble continued its downward slide on Tuesday. White House economist Jason Furman says most Americans can afford to root against the Russian economy since U.S. trade with that country is limited. But he says the meltdown should be a problem for the Kremlin.

JASON FURMAN: If I was chairman of President Putin's council of economic advisers, I would be extremely concerned.

HORSLEY: The biggest challenge facing Russia is the price of crude oil, which has tumbled nearly 50 percent from its summertime peak. Oil and gas are Russia's biggest exports. And oil makes up the bulk of the government's revenue. The route of the ruble can't be blamed on falling oil prices alone, though. Furman says Russia is also paying a price for the economic sanctions imposed over its annexation of Crimea and its continued meddling in Ukraine.

FURMAN: They are facing a very serious economic situation. And it's largely of their own making and largely reflects the consequences of not following a set of international rules.

HORSLEY: Both the House and Senate voted unanimously to impose additional sanctions on Russia. Anders Aaslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics says investors around the world are now shunning the Russian economy.

ANDERS AASLUND: Nobody wants to put money into Russia. And that means that there is a one-way street now for money out of Russia.

HORSLEY: Of course, it's possible this international isolation will backfire. And rather than being chastened, Russian President Vladimir Putin will become more reckless than ever, President Obama warned a group of American business leaders this month. So far, Putin's stature inside Russia has benefited even as much of the West has turned against him. Obama says he's not optimistic Putin will back down until he's forced to.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don't think that will happen until the politics inside of Russia catch up to what's happening in the economy inside of Russia, which is part of the reason why we're going to continue to maintain that pressure.

HORSLEY: Just yesterday, in a nationwide poll, Russians named Putin their man of the year for the 15th year in a row. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.