US sanctions 500 Russia-linked targets ahead of Ukraine war anniversary

US reiterates support for Ukraine with largest package of economic restrictions as Republicans block military aid.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazan, Russia, on February 22, 2024 [Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via Reuters]

The United States has issued sanctions on more than 500 Russian-linked targets in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago and the death in prison of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Washington has also imposed new export restrictions on nearly 100 entities for providing support to Russia and take action to further reduce Russia’s energy revenues, US President Joe Biden said on Friday.

The entities and sectors targeted include Russia’s Mir payment system, Russian financial institutions and its military industrial base, sanctions evasion, and future energy production, and will also include officials believed to be involved in the death of Navalny, the Treasury and State departments said.

The measures represent the largest single tranche of penalties since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and come on the back of a series of new arrests and indictments that the US Department of Justice announced on Thursday, targeting Russian businessmen, including the head of state-owned VTB Bank, Russia’s second-largest bank.

“They will ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home,” Biden said of the sanctions.

The new economic restrictions come after the White House said this week that it was preparing “major” penalties after the death of Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, in an Arctic penal colony.

Biden said on Thursday, after meeting Navalny’s widow Yulia and daughter Dasha in California, that “we’re going to be announcing sanctions against Putin, who is responsible for his death, tomorrow”.

The Kremlin has denied Putin was behind Navalny’s death and slammed the West for making assumptions before there was proof to back up its allegations.

Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that the sanctions will also be taken in partnership with other countries who are looking to keep up the pressure on Russia over its war on Ukraine.

“Tomorrow we’ll release hundreds of sanctions just here in the United States, but it’s important to step back and remember that its not just America taking these actions,” Adeyemo said.

Washington has been coordinating with its European allies in its efforts to cut Russia off from the global economy.

The European Union on Friday announced its 13th package of sanctions against Russia, banning nearly 200 additional entities and individuals accused of involvement in the two-year conflict.

“Today, we are further tightening the restrictive measures against Russia’s military and defence sector,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “We remain united in our determination to dent Russia’s war machine and help Ukraine win its legitimate fight for self-defence.”

The United Kingdom has imposed sanctions on six officials overseeing the penal colony where Navalny died.

“Sanctions and export controls are geared towards slowing Russia down, making it harder for them to fight their war of choice in Ukraine,” Adeyemo said.

The Biden administration has exhausted money previously approved for Ukraine, and a request for additional funds for military aid to Ukraine is stuck in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

“But ultimately, in order to speed Ukraine up, to give them the ability to defend themselves, Congress needs to act to give Ukraine the resources that they need and the weapons they need,” Adeyemo added.

The US and its allies have additionally capped the price at which Russian crude oil can be sold on global markets, frozen billions of dollars of its central bank’s assets and imposed trade restrictions in an attempt to block technology and equipment used by Moscow to supply its military. However, they have not dented Russia’s ability to wage war.

On Friday, Putin claimed that 95 percent of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces had been modernised and that the Air Force had just taken delivery of four new supersonic nuclear-capable bombers.

In a recorded speech to mark Russia’s annual Defender of the Fatherland Day, which celebrates the armed forces, he also praised soldiers fighting in Ukraine as heroes battling for “truth and justice”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies