Biden sanctions Putin's daughters, Russian banks over 'war crimes' in Ukraine

Biden's new sanctions target Putin's daughters Maria Vorontsova (left) and Katerina Tikhonova. PHOTOS: SCREENSHOT, REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - The White House announced sanctions on Wednesday (April 6) on two daughters of Vladimir Putin over Moscow's war on Ukraine, saying family members were known to hide the Russian President's wealth.

It also declared "full blocking" sanctions on Russia's largest public and private financial institutions, Sberbank and Alfa Bank, and said all new US investment in Russia was now prohibited.

Two of Mr Putin’s daughters – Ms Maria Vorontsova and Ms Katerina Tikhonova – presumably will be subject to the new penalties, a senior administration official said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s wife and daughter, and members of Russia’s national security council, will also be sanctioned as part of an effort by the US and its allies to crack down on people close to the Russian leader, the official said.

Other state-owned enterprises that will be subject to full-blocking sanctions include United Aircraft Corporation and United Shipbuilding Corporation.

In a parallel action on Wednesday, the US Justice Department indicted Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev for sanctions violations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Russian billionaire was a source of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea and supported pro-Moscow separatists in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

“After being sanctioned by the United States, Malofeyev attempted to evade the sanctions by using co-conspirators to surreptitiously acquire and run media outlets across Europe,” Garland told reporters.

“Malofeyev played a leading role in supporting Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine, continues to run a pro-Putin propaganda network, and recently described Russia’s 2022 military invasion of Ukraine as a ‘holy war’,” said FBI official Michael Driscoll.

The US also plans to match a decision by the European Union to phase out imports of Russian coal, as well as to impose a ban on investment in Russia, a US official said on Tuesday. 

The announcements follow the emergence of photos and reports of dead civilians in Bucha and other areas near Kyiv that fuelled global outrage against Russia. US President Joe Biden described the apparent killings as war crimes and said Mr Putin could face a trial. Moscow has denied that its armed forces committed atrocities in Ukraine.

Earlier this week, the US Treasury Department took aim at Russia’s effort to avoid a default on its sovereign debt by halting dollar debt payments from the nation’s accounts at US banks.

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The European Commission on Tuesday proposed new sanctions on Russia, including the coal ban, new penalties on oligarchs and other elites and their families, export controls and blocking access to Russian shipping carriers.

The proposals also include sanctions on Mr Putin’s daughters. 

The announcements come as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Europe for meetings with Nato allies to coordinate the latest punishments for Russia.

Russian lender Sberbank said on Wednesday the new sanctions on it by the United States would not have significant effect on its operations.

“The sanctions will not have a significant impact on the bank’s operations and will not affect service to Russians as the system has already adapted to the previous restrictions,” it said in a statement.

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Also announcing further sanctions against Russia on Wednesday was Britain, which froze the assets of Sberbank and Credit Bank of Moscow.

The asset freeze on Sberbank was taken in co-ordination with the United States.

London added it would end all imports of Russian coal and oil by the end of 2022 in a ratcheting up of sanctions designed to “starve Putin’s war machine”.

A further eight oligarchs were also sanctioned.

Britain will also ban outward investment to Russia, which was worth over £11 billion (S$20 billion) in 2020, and the export of key oil refining equipment and catalysts.

“Our latest wave of measures will bring an end to the UK’s imports of Russian energy and sanction yet more individuals and businesses, decimating (Vladimir) Putin’s war machine,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

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Elsewhere in Europe, Lithuania's foreign minister said the European Union needs to impose an oil embargo on Russia, saying that plans for sanctions on coal imports were not enough to pressure Moscow to stop its invasion of Ukraine.

“Coal is a very small portion of our imports from Russia,” Mr Gabrielius Landsbergis said as he arrived for a Nato foreign ministers meeting.

“If we’re serious about our reaction to massacres... then we have to be serious about sanctions and oil, I think, is the next logical step that has to be taken,” he said.

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