Tuesday, April 9

US sanctions Russian oligarchs as Putin shows no signs of de-escalation | US foreign policy

The White House imposed new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and their families on Thursday, as Vladimir Putin showed no sign of de-escalating Russia’s devastating military attacks on Ukraine.

Joe Biden said the sanctions will target those who “line their pockets with the Russian people’s money” as the Ukrainian people seek shelter from air strikes.

“Our interest is in maintaining the strongest unified economic impact campaign on Putin in all of history, and I think we’re well on the way to doing that,” Biden said in a cabinet meeting.

“Today I’m announcing that we’re adding dozens of names to the [sanctions] list, including one of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires, and I’m banning travel to America by more than 50 Russian oligarchs, their families and their closest associates.”

The financial sanctions target at least eight Russian elites and their family members, in an attempt to prevent the oligarchs from transferring assets to spouses or children to circumvent the restrictions. Those sanctioned include billionaire Alisher Usmanov, a Putin ally whose super-yacht was just seized by German authorities, and Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin.

The sanctions terminate the oligarchs’ access to the American financial system, while their US-based assets will be frozen and their property will be blocked from use. The State Department has also imposed US visa restrictions on 19 oligarchs and 47 of their family members and close associates.

The White House has said the new sanctions are designed to put more pressure on Putin by targeting his inner circle of allies.

“We want him to feel the squeeze. We want the people around him to feel the squeeze,” said the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki.

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The announcement marks an escalation by the Biden administration, which had already imposed sanctions on Putin, his foreign minister and some of the top executives of Russia’s largest companies following the invasion of Ukraine. Biden indicated in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that his administration would crack down on oligarchs’ assets as part of the west’s efforts to further isolate Putin.

“I say to the Russian oligarchs and the corrupt leaders who’ve billed billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more,” Biden said Tuesday. “We’re joining with European Allies to find and size their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

The new sanctions came as the White House asked Congress for another $10bn in aid to Ukraine. Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the money would be used to provide Ukraine with more defense equipment and emergency food assistance, as well as bolster enforcement of the sanctions against Russia.

“Given the rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine, additional needs may arise over time,” Young said.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said Thursday that she supports including the funding for Ukraine in the omnibus spending package currently being debated in Congress. Pelosi also echoed demands to ban US imports of Russian oil, telling reporters: “I’m all for that. Ban it. Ban the oil coming from Russia.”

But the White House has voiced a more skeptical opinion of sanctioning Russian oil companies, amid concerns that the crisis in Ukraine could drive gas prices higher. “We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” Psaki said. “That would raise prices at the gas pump for the American people.”

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Any sanctions imposed by the White House may be coming too late for millions of Ukrainians. More than 1 million people have already fled the country because of the Russian invasion, and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has begged for more assistance from western allies to end Putin’s airstrikes.

“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me plans!” he said Thursday. “If we are no more, then, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next.”

Ukrainian and Russian officials held another round of peace talks in Belarus, but they could only agree on establishing humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians. A phone call between Putin and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Thursday yielded no major breakthroughs, and concerns are mounting over a large Russian convoy of tanks and artillery outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

The French Élysée palace said after the call: “We expect the worst is yet to come.”


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