EU and US draw up sanctions against Russia's Putin and Lavrov

President and foreign minister will be hit by asset freezes and other measures aimed at their personal wealth

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) attends a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russia's Defence Minister in Moscow on February 2, 2019. President Putin on February 2 said Russia was suspending its participation in a key Cold War-era missile treaty in a mirror response to a US move the day before. Moscow and Washington have long accused the other of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement. / AFP / Sputnik / Alexey NIKOLSKY
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The EU and the US on Friday said they are preparing to impose sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin in a personal hit that would deepen the West's retaliation for Russia’s military action in Ukraine.

Russia's long-serving Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also be affected under plans that were being finalised by the US and the EU's 27 foreign ministers on Friday.

The measures are aimed at isolating Russia's ruling elite.

“In alignment with the decision by our European allies, the United States will join them in sanctioning President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team,” White House Sress secretary Jen Psaki said.

European diplomats said an agreement was close on freezing the assets of Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov, but that the two men would not be subject to travel bans, so a revival of peace talks remains possible.

Ms Psaki, however, said the two men would be subject to US travel bans.

The announcements came on the second day of Russia's incursion into Ukraine during which fighting on the outskirts of Kiev continued as top Ukrainian officials lobbied intensively for tougher sanctions.

Speaking at a Nato meeting, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia had “shattered peace on the European continent".

Sanctioning Mr Putin personally would go further than earlier measures taken his close allies in the political, business and media worlds and against the financing of the Russian war effort.

“To show how serious we are, we're taking a step that has never been taken in this form before,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, citing Mr Putin's status as leader of a nuclear power and permanent UN Security Council member.

“Russia has chosen a path of war and violence and has thereby isolated itself internationally,” he said. “We will react by isolating Putin and his system from the world economy.”

His German counterpart Annalena Baerbock said Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov “are responsible for the fact that innocent people are dying in Ukraine”. The UN reported civilian casualties, and Ukraine raised the alarm over high radiation levels at the Russian-held Chernobyl exclusion zone.

The sanctions were announced following frantic discussions in Brussels, after overnight talks between the 27 EU heads of government failed to reach consensus on sanctioning Mr Putin.

Other western allies have hinted at similar moves against the Russian president. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was open to sanctioning the president and his family.

The Kremlin has previously said any such sanctions would be “politically destructive” and would not damage Mr Putin. Little is known about his personal wealth or what assets he might have abroad.

In a phone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr Johnson said allies should take “immediate action” on cutting Russia out of global payments system Swift, a prospect that European diplomats said was not off the table but which was played down by Germany and France.

The package of EU sanctions is the second to be approve in the space of three days after a first round hit Putin allies such as Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and the editor-in-chief of TV channel Russia Today.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy urged European leaders to levy tougher sanctions on Moscow.

Ms Baerbock said the planned measures targeting the financial and energy sectors would “ruin Russia”, but that banning Russia from Swift might stop ordinary Russians from sending money to relatives while elites find other ways to transfer funds.

Discussions on this point have been going on for weeks as diplomats prepared a package they hoped would deter Russia from attacking Ukraine at all. The US and UK have signalled support for taking action on Swift but acknowledge there is little they can do unilaterally.

Leaders including the presidents of France and the Czech Republic admitted that Mr Putin had caught them out by launching his assault on Thursday.

Nato was seeking to reassure allies on its eastern flank that it would guarantee their security. The alliance is not intervening in Ukraine because it is not a member state.

At a gathering of Eastern European countries who once lived under the shadow of Russian domination, Polish President Andrzej Duda said the whole of European security order was at stake.

“The countries of our region should understand these words better than anyone else,” he said. “We must not stop at just condemning in a passive way this brutal attack. We have to start acting in a concrete way.”

Updated: February 25, 2022, 11:41 PM
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