BRUSSELS, Belgium — The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters and said it was toughening penalties against Russian banks in retaliation for “war crimes” in Ukraine.
The United Kingdom and the European Union were set to take additional steps, including a ban on new investment in Russian and an EU embargo on coal, after the recent evidence of atrocities that has emerged in the wake of the retreat by Russian forces from areas around Kyiv, including the town of Bucha.
"There's nothing less happening than major war crimes," President Joe Biden said at a Wednesday unions conference. "Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable. Together with our allies and our partners, we're going to keep raising the economic cost and ratchet up the pain for Putin and further increase Russia's economic isolation."
The U.S. acted against two of Russia's largest banks, Sberbank and Alfa Bank, prohibiting assets from going through the U.S. financial system and barring Americans from doing business with those two institutions.
In addition to sanctions aimed at Putin’s adult daughters, Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova, the U.S. is targeting Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin; the wife and children of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; and members of Russia’s Security Council, including Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and prime minister.
The penalties cut off all of Putin’s close family members from the U.S. financial system and freeze any assets they hold in the United States.
President Joe Biden called the latest round of sanctions “devastating.”
“I made clear that Russia would pay a severe and immediate price for its atrocities in Bucha,” Biden said in a tweet.
Biden was expected to will sign an an executive order that would ban new investment in Russia by Americans no matter where they are living. The U.S. Treasury Department is preparing more sanctions against major Russian state-owned enterprises, according to the White House.
Videos and images of bodies in the streets of Bucha after it was recaptured from Russian forces have unleashed a wave of indignation among Western allies, who have drawn up new sanctions as a response.
The European Commission’s proposed ban on coal imports would be the first EU sanctions targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry over its war in Ukraine.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said energy was key to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war coffers.
“A billion euro is what we pay Putin every day for the energy he provides us since the beginning of the war. We have given him 35 billion euro. Compare that to the one billion that we have given to the Ukraine in arms and weapons,” Borrell said.
After several European countries announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats, the European Commission proposed a fifth package of sanctions including a ban on coal imports that could be adopted as soon as Wednesday once unanimously approved by the 27-nation bloc's ambassadors.
The United States and Western allies plan to impose a ban on all new investment in Russia. Among the other measures being taken against Russia are greater sanctions on its financial institutions and state-owned enterprises, and sanctions on government officials and their family members, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Separately, the Treasury Department moved Tuesday to block any Russian government debt payments with U.S. dollars from accounts at U.S. financial institutions, making it harder for Russia to meet its financial obligations.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the coal ban is worth 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) per year and that the EU has already started working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports.
She didn’t mention natural gas, with consensus among the 27 EU countries on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes difficult to secure amid opposition from gas-dependent members like Germany, the bloc’s largest economy.
But European Council President Charles Michel said the bloc should keep up the pressure on the Kremlin, suggesting that an embargo on gas imports should also be required at some point in the future.
“The new package includes a ban on coal imports,” Michel said on Wednesday. “I think that measures on oil, and even gas, will also be needed, sooner or later.”
The new package of measures proposed by the commission also includes sanctions on more individuals and four key Russian banks, among them VTB, the second-largest Russian bank. The bloc also would ban Russian vessels and Russian-operated vessels from EU ports.
Further targeted export bans, worth 10 billion euros, in sectors covering quantum computers, advanced semiconductors, sensitive machinery and transportation equipment also were proposed.
“I appreciate the strengthening of the 5th EU sanctions package: bans on Russian coal, vessels accessing EU ports, and road transport operators," Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “But it will take a gas/oil embargo and de-SWIFTing of all Russian banks to stop Putin. Difficult times require difficult decisions."
Western allies have already cut out several Russian banks of the SWIFT financial messaging system, which daily moves countless billions of dollars around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world.
Madhani reporter from Washington.