US and its allies step up sanctions on Russia after Ukraine invasion

New measures would have significant impact on Russia but stop short of some of the most severe actions that could further rattle the global economy

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The US and its allies on Thursday announced sweeping new sanctions to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, introducing a series of measures targeting Russian imports, oligarchs and banks.

After an initial round of sanctions this week that critics saw as too weak, President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new penalties that target Russia's financial heart and aim to limit Moscow's ability to access new technology.

"This is going to impose severe costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time," Mr Biden said at the White House.

"We have purposely designed these sanctions to maximise a long-term impact on Russia and to minimise the impact in the United States and our allies."

The new sanctions came after Mr Biden spoke virtually with his fellow leaders from the G7, a group of countries comprising 50 per cent of the global economy.

"We're in full and total agreement," said Mr Biden. "We will limit Russia's ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen - to be part of the global economy."

He also said that the US is sanctioning Russia's four largest banks, including VTB.

"That means every asset they have in America will be frozen," said Mr Biden, adding that the sanctions would hamper Russia's ability to modernise its military and compete in the "high-tech 21st century economy".

In London, Mr Johnson vowed to inflict a huge package of economic sanctions to “hobble” the Russian economy, and said he would seek to end Britain’s dependence on its oil.

The prime minister extended punitive measures to hit five further oligarchs, including the Russian president’s former son-in-law, and more than 100 businesses and individuals.

Aeroflot will imminently be banned from touching down planes in the UK, while there will be an asset freeze on all major Russian banks, including against VTB, effective immediately.

G7 leaders said the latest batch of measures would make Russia a pariah state, suppress its economic growth and eventually leave its people turning to Mr Putin for answers.

Outside the G7 bloc, Australia imposed another batch of sanctions hitting 25 Russian army commanders and four entities involved in the sale of military technology.

"Those who shared in the Kremlin's corrupt games, and stored their wealth in yachts and luxury condos and fancy cars, will now share in the pain of these measures," said Daleep Singh, the deputy US national security adviser for international economics.

The Biden administration also levelled sanctions against 24 banks, defence companies and individuals in Belarus, a staging ground from which Russian forces advanced south toward Kyiv after conducting what were cast as military exercises.

EU leaders meanwhile approved a new set of sanctions that will restrict Russia’s access to Europe’s financial sector and key technology.

Sanctions against Putin 'on the table'

Mr Biden said the collective impact of the internationally co-ordinated export controls would cut off approximately half of Russia's high-tech imports.

"Some of the most powerful impacts our actions will come over time as we squeeze Russians' access to finances and technology for strategic sectors of its economy and degrade its industrial capacity for years to come," the US leader said.

While Mr Biden is expanding targeted sanctions on Mr Putin's wealthy allies, the US has not yet sanctioned the Russian president himself.

Mr Biden said personal sanctions on Mr Putin are "on the table" but declined to tell reporters why he has not yet done so.

He also said he is "not prepared to comment right now" on whether he's endeavouring to convince China to take action on Russia as well.

The new sanctions follow an earlier round announced this week, which hit the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline to Germany as well as two Russian financial institutions.

However, the sanctions failed to deter Mr Putin from moving forces outside of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk while launching missiles at major Ukrainian cities.

“The deterrent aspect of this clearly didn’t deter,” Douglas Rediker, a non-resident senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, told The National.

“Having said that, if we had layered more expansive sanctions earlier, it’s highly doubtful that would have deterred Putin anyway.”

Mr Biden also said he is authorising the deployment of US forces to Germany to help shore up Nato defences.

"The United States will defend every inch of Nato territory with the full force of American power,” Mr Biden.

The new sanctions Mr Biden announced could incur significant costs on Russia and its people.

“But in the medium to longer term, the export controls that the US administration is threatening to impose later today would in fact have a very serious impact on Russia’s economy in the 21st century,” said Mr Rediker.

Mr Biden vowed to shield US consumers from rising petrol prices when he announced the first tranche of Russia sanctions on Tuesday, indicating that he will likely refrain from sanctioning Russia’s oil sector — its key source of revenue.

Likewise, Mr Rediker said that removing Russia from the SWIFT financial network would be a “blunt instrument” that “would likely cause not only damage to the Russian banking system and economy but could have enormous consequential impact around the world".

Mr Biden argued that the sanctions imposed "exceed SWIFT" but noted that sanctioning the Brussels-based financial network remains on the table.

"It is always an option," said Mr Biden. "But right now, that's not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take."

Nonetheless, members of Congress may push Mr Biden to enact the harshest sanctions possible despite the economic blowback.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for “the toughest possible sanctions".

And Democrat Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he is “committed to ensuring that the United States upholds our responsibility to exact maximum costs on Putin, the Russian economy and those who enabled and facilitated this trampling of Ukraine's sovereignty".

Mr Menendez had been negotiating with James Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, on Russia sanctions legislation before Congress went on recess this week.

However, they were unable to agree on a bipartisan package amid a debate on sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as well as levying sanctions on Russia before the invasion — two issues that are now moot.

After the president instated the Nord Stream 2 sanctions in co-ordination with Germany, Mr Risch said “it is good to see President Biden do the right thing".

He also vowed that “the repercussions of this invasion will be painful and swift” for Russia.

Updated: February 24, 2022, 11:36 PM
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