WASHINGTON: The United States targeted Russian banks and elites with a new package of sanctions on Wednesday, including banning Americans from investing in Russia, in response to what President Joe Biden condemned as Russian “atrocities” in Ukraine.
The new sanctions hit Russia’s Sberbank, which holds one-third of Russia’s total banking assets, and Alfabank, the country’s fourth largest financial institution, US officials said. But energy transactions were exempted from the latest measures, the officials said.
The United States is also sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s wife and daughter, and members of Russia’s security council, the officials said.
“I made clear that Russia would pay a severe and immediate price for its atrocities in Bucha,” Biden said in a message on Twitter, referring to the town retaken from Russian forces where civilians were found shot at close range.
“Today, along with our Allies and partners, we’re announcing a new round of devastating sanctions,” Biden said.
Russia, which says it launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine on Feb. 24, denies targeting civilians and said images of the deaths were a “monstrous forgery” staged by the West.
State-run Sberbank, Russia’s largest lender, and Alfabank said the new sanctions would not have a significant impact on their operations.
The White House also said Biden was signing an executive order that “includes a prohibition on new investment in Russia by US persons wherever located, which will further isolate Russia from the global economy.” This will include a ban on venture capital and mergers, officials said.
As part of a package coordinated with allies, the United States is “dramatically escalating” the financial shock on Russia by cutting off that country’s largest banks, a senior administration official told reporters.
“The reality is the country is descending into economic and financial and technological isolation,” the official said. “And at this rate, it will go back to Soviet-style living standards from the 1980s.”
Also on Wednesday, the US Justice Department charged Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev with violating sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said authorities had also disrupted a type of global malicious computer network known as a “botnet” controlled by a Russian military intelligence agency.
Seeking to further ratchet up pressure on Putin, the United States is also imposing full blocking sanctions on what the White House called “critical major Russian state-owned enterprises,” which it said would damage the Kremlin’s ability to fund its war effort.
The US Treasury Department will name those entities on Thursday, the White House said in a statement.
The US government took action amid mounting accusations of war crimes by Russia in Ukraine.
Grim images emerging from Bucha include a mass grave and bodies of people shot at close range, prompting calls for tougher action against Moscow and an international investigation.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said the killings were part of a deliberate Russian campaign to commit atrocities.
Neither Blinken nor Russia provided evidence to support the assertions.
A senior French official said the European Union would also likely impose new sanctions on Wednesday.