The West is ramping up sanctions against the Kremlin as Russia continues to press forward with its invasion of Ukraine.
Sanctions are now directly targeting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, as well as prominent business people known as oligarchs.
The United States and the European Union announced today new sanctions as Russian troops approached Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
EU freezes Putin’s personal assets
The European Union will freeze any assets Mr Putin has on the continent, as well as those of his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The EU’s 27 member states agreed on a new wave of measures — their second this week — to hit Russia’s elite and thwart operations of 70 per cent of the country’s banking system.
Mr Putin is now just the third world leader who has personal sanctions imposed by the bloc, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the sanctions against Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov served as a punishment for the pain they had inflicted on Ukraine.
“They are responsible for the deaths of innocent people in Ukraine, and for trampling on the international system,” she said.
“We, as Europeans, do not accept that.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc could go further with financial deterrents, but they would only come if needed.
US to target Russia’s sovereign wealth fund
The US joined its EU allies on Friday, with similar sanctions announced for Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov.
The rare, but not unprecedented, US imposition of sanctions on a head of state came just a day after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, assaulting by land, sea and air in the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II.
“President Putin and Minister Lavrov are directly responsible for Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful further invasion of Ukraine, a democratic sovereign state,” the Treasury Department said in a statement late on Friday.
It said sanctions against a head of state were “exceedingly rare”, and put Mr Putin on a list that included the leaders of North Korea, Syria and Belarus. Further actions could follow.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters President Joe Biden decided to target Mr Putin, Mr Lavrov and other officials after speaking by phone with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier on Friday.
Ms Psaki said the US would also newly sanction the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which functions as a sovereign wealth fund meant to draw capital into the Russian economy.
The RDIF was established by the Russian government in 2011 and is a private equity firm that invests in the pharmaceutical, construction, finance, healthcare, petrochemical, and dairy sectors according to Bloomberg.
SWIFT penalty against Russia
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on leaders of NATO member countries on Friday to use the SWIFT international payments system to damage Mr Putin and members of his government.
SWIFT is a secure messaging system that facilitates rapid cross-border payments and is the principal mechanism for financing international trade.
Mr Johnson called on NATO leaders to take immediate action with SWIFT “to inflict maximum pain on President Putin and his regime”, according to Mr Johnson’s office after a call with the NATO leaders.
It is an option which is being considered by the EU, according to European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
“Putin wants war. But people want peace, freedom and the right to make their choices”, she said on Twitter.
“Further, massive, sanctions, with nothing off the table, are important — we can do more. Including the exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT system.”
Cutting Russia off SWIFT would hit Russian trade and make it harder for Russian companies to do business.
The UK would introduce sanctions against Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov imminently, on top of the package of measures announced on Thursday, Mr Johnson’s office said.
These oligarchs are:
- Denis Aleksandrovich Bortnikov — Deputy President and Chairman of Russia’s state-owned VTB Bank Management Board
- Vladimir Sergeevich Kiriyenko — chief executive of VK Group
- Petr Mikhailovich Fradkov — Chairman and chief executive of Promsvyazbank and General Director of the Russian Export Center
- Igor Arkadyevich Rotenberg — Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Telematic Systems
- Elena Aleksandrovna Georgieva — Chair of the Board of Novikombank
- Yury Borisovich Slyusar — General Director of the United Aircraft Corporation
- Kirill Nikolayevich Shamalov — Deputy Chairman of SIBUR’s Management Board
- Igor Ivanovich Sechin — chief executive, President and Chairman at Rosneft
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