US reveals fresh Russia sanctions after atrocities in Ukraine

Citing abuses in Ukraine, US announces new penalties that target Vladimir Putin’s adult children and Russia’s largest bank.

Field engineers of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine conduct mine clearing among destroyed vehicles on a street of Bucha on April 5 [Genya Savilov/AFP]

In a new round of sanctions, the United States has banned American investments in Russia, imposed penalties on family members of Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials and tightened restrictions on Sberbank, the country’s largest financial institution.

The fresh sanctions, announced on Wednesday, come as the United States and its Western allies accuse Russia of war crimes in Ukraine after the discovery of atrocities in areas near Kyiv that had been occupied by Russian forces. The measures were taken in coordination with other G7 countries and the European Union, the White House said.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters on Wednesday that Russia is “descending into economic and financial and technological isolation” that is sending the country back to “Soviet-style” living standards.

“The sad reality is Putin’s war will make it harder for Russians to travel abroad; it means their debit cards may not work. They may only have the option to buy knockoff phones and knockoff clothes. The shelves of stores may be empty,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Wednesday’s sanctions also target Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest privately-owned financial institution.

“This action will freeze any of Sberbank’s and Alfa Bank’s assets touching the US financial system and prohibit US persons from doing business with them,” the White House said in a statement.

“Sberbank holds nearly one-third of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets and is systemically critical to the Russian economy.”

Penalties were also imposed on Putin’s two adult daughters as well as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s wife and daughter.

On Monday, President Joe Biden had reasserted his accusation that Putin is a “war criminal”, citing atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv, where corpses were discovered in the streets after the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Biden stressed after Wednesday’s measures were announced that sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, vowing to continue efforts to further isolate Moscow.

“Just in one year, our sanctions are likely to wipe out the last 15 years of Russia’s economic gains,” Biden said.

In announcing the new sanctions on Wednesday, the White House invoked alleged abuses against Russian forces, including in Bucha. Moscow had denied the violations, suggesting that footage and evidence of abuse may have been staged.

Earlier this week, the US Treasury blocked Russia from using assets frozen in the United States to make debt payments.

“Even if Russia taps into other sources of hard currency to remain current on its debt obligations, that will translate into fewer resources available to Putin to fund his war machine,” the US official said on Wednesday.

Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24 after a months-long standoff that saw Moscow amass nearly 200,000 troops near the Ukrainian borders as it demanded an end to NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.

The US and its allies were quick to impose sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy as well as financial penalties on Putin and elites in his inner circle.

Earlier on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice revealed two charges of violating sanctions against Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, the first indictment since the February invasion.

Malofeyev faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each sanction charge if convicted, but the Department of Justice said he remains at large and is believed to be in Russia.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Wednesday that the US disrupted a malicious digital network, known as a botnet, controlled by the Russian military intelligence agency (GRU).

“The Russian government has recently used similar infrastructure to attack Ukrainian targets. Fortunately, we were able to disrupt this botnet before it could be used,” he said. “Thanks to our close work with international partners, we were able to detect the infection of thousands of network hardware devices. We were then able to disable the GRU’s control over those devices before the botnet could be weaponised.”

Last month, the White House urged private companies in the US to tighten digital protections in anticipation of a possible Russian cyberattack targeting vital infrastructure in the country.

“It does not matter how far you sail your yacht. It does not matter how well you conceal your assets. It does not matter how cleverly you write your malware or hide your online activity, the Justice Department will use every available tool to find you,” Garland said in a message to Russian oligarchs and “criminals” on Wednesday.

Garland also pledged that the Department of Justice will help in the investigation of possible war crimes in Ukraine. “Today, we are assisting international efforts to identify and hold accountable those responsible for atrocities in Ukraine. And we will continue to do so,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera