Cut Belarus and Russia off from SWIFT system to dismantle their economies

The Biden administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian individuals, banks and Belarusian defense industries in response to Minsk allowing the country to be a staging ground for Russia’s invasion into Ukraine.

Sanctions on Belarus

Belarus has become increasingly reliant on Russia for economic, political, and military support in recent years as the regime has clung to power following the fraudulent August 2020 presidential election.

Treasury’s Russia-related actions will also have significant downstream effects in Belarus. The Belarusian economy is highly dependent on key Russian financial institutions and their subsidiaries, including Public Joint Stock Company Sberbank of Russia (Sberbank), VTB Bank Public Joint Stock Company (VTB), and State Corporation Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs Vnesheconombank (VEB). Restrictions against Sberbank, VTB, and VEB, combined with the measures against Belarusian banks, target nearly one-fifth of the country’s entire financial sector.

Russian attacks on Ukraine. Photo by Al Jazeera.

The sanctions target 24 individuals and Belarusian entities largely in the defense sector and financial institutions that have especially close ties to Russia, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The designations announced Thursday build on five previous Belarus-related sanctions tranches imposed by the U.S. and allies in response to a fraudulent power grab by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after the 2020 elections and imposing a violent crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the country.

“Having already sacrificed its legitimacy to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenka regime is now jeopardizing Belarus’s sovereignty by supporting Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

“Treasury continues to disrupt Belarus’s military and financial capabilities through targeted sanctions. Further, due to the inter-connectedness between the two countries, the actions Treasury took against Russia today will also impose severe economic pain on the Lukashenka regime.”

Sanctions on Russia

“Putin is the aggressor; Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said.

The sanctions target four Russian banks that hold more than $1 trillion in assets, including the country’s largest bank, Sberbank. “That means every asset they have in America will be frozen,” the US president said.

Source: The Whitehouse.

Biden also said the sanctions will target wealthy Russians close to Putin. “We will keep up this drumbeat of those designations against corrupt billionaires in the days ahead,” he pledged.

Thursday’s measures did not target the Russian president personally, but Biden said sanctioning Putin is “on the table”.

European Union leaders will impose new sanctions on Russia, freezing its assets, halting its banks’ access to European financial markets and targeting “Kremlin interests” for its invasion of Ukraine, senior officials have said.

An emergency summit at 19:00 GMT on Thursday will also discuss offering EU candidate status to Ukraine, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said, a step Kyiv has long called for, though it may not win approval from all EU leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday launched an invasion against Ukraine using Russian troops that were pre-positioned in Belarus on Ukraine’s northern border under what the Kremlin had earlier said was military exercises. Reuters reported this included “columns of troops” pouring in from across the border in Belarus.

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