26 February 2022

Sanctions swing toward Putin himself as anger grows over Ukraine invasion

26 February 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the latest target of international sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, with the US, Canada and European allies all announcing they are adding direct measures against him and his foreign minister.

With Russian forces on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital, diplomatic appeals appeared to come second to imposing financial pain on Russia as global condemnation grew.

Asked if US President Joe Biden has planned any more direct diplomatic overtures towards Mr Putin, White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday told reporters he had not, but “it does not mean we have ruled out diplomacy forever”.

She said the US was preparing individual sanctions on Mr Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, likely to include travel bans.

The announcement came hours after the European Union announced it intended to freeze Mr Putin’s assets, and Boris Johnson told Nato leaders the UK would also sanction the president and Mr Lavrov.

Ms Psaki said the US would also newly sanction the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which functions as a sovereign wealth fund meant to draw capital into the Russian economy.

The US and European allies earlier announced sweeping asset freezes and other penalties against Russia’s banks, state-owned enterprises and elites.

The American measures block Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov – whom the Treasury Department’s formal announcement of the sanctions described as Mr Putin’s “chief propagandist” – from access to any assets within reach of US officials, and bar anyone in the States from doing business with them. Members of Russia’s security council were also sanctioned.

The sanctions would not ban contact between, for example, Mr Putin and Mr Biden, or US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Mr Lavrov.

It is unclear what the practical impact on Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov would be and how important their assets in Europe were.

Sergei Lavrov (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP) (AP)

EU ministers have said further sanctions are possible, including kicking Russia out of Swift, the dominant system for global financial transactions.

On Saturday, French officials said marines patrolling the English Channel intercepted a cargo ship sailing under the Russian flag and escorted it to the port of Boulogne-Sur-Mer for an investigation.

The interception of the ship, carrying cars, was triggered by financial sanctions levied days ago against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country supports the removal of Russia from Swift.

Russia has imposed its own tit-for-tat measures, banning British flights to and over its territory in retaliation to a similar UK ban on Aeroflot flights.

An Aeroflot flight (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

Russian authorities also announced the “partial restriction” of access to Facebook after the social media network limited the accounts of several Kremlin-backed media.

Moscow also vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding that it stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

A senior Russian official also warned that Moscow could react to western sanctions over its attack on Ukraine by opting out of the last remaining nuclear arms pact and freezing western assets.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Mr Putin, said the sanctions could offer Moscow a pretext for a complete review of its ties with the West, suggesting Russia could opt out of the New Start nuclear arms control treaty that limits US and Russian nuclear arsenals.

The international measures against Russia have also included:

– An extraordinary visit by Pope Francis to the Russian embassy to “express his concern about the war”

– The Uefa Champions League final being stripped from St Petersburg

– Formula One dropping this season’s Russian Grand Prix in Sochi

– Poland refusing to play its World Cup qualifier against Russia in Moscow on March 24

– Russia banned from the Eurovision Song Contest in Italy in May

Countries in Asia and the Pacific have joined others in sanctioning Russian banks and leading companies and setting up export controls aimed at starving Russia’s industries and military of semiconductors and other hi-tech products.

Australia on Saturday said it was imposing sanctions against all 339 members of the Russian parliament as well as eight Russian oligarchs close to Mr Putin and is considering sanctions against the president and Mr Lavrov.

Japan and South Korea on Saturday said their foreign ministers had spoken with Mr Blinken, but Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi declined to say whether Tokyo plans to impose sanctions on Mr Putin or Mr Lavrov.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said Mr Blinken thanked Seoul over its willingness to participate in international sanctions against Russia, without giving details.

China has continued to denounce sanctions against Russia and blamed the US and its allies for provoking Moscow. Beijing, worried about American power in Asia, has increasingly aligned its foreign policy with Russia to challenge the West.

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