Alan Rappeport, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Katie Rogers
The United States and Europe on February 25 moved to personally penalise Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine, imposing sanctions aimed at freezing his wealth while continuing to try to cripple his military and economic capabilities through other new restrictions.
White House officials said US President Joe Biden intended to impose sanctions and freeze the assets of Putin, along with those of Sergey Lavrov, his foreign minister.
Other Russian national security officials will also be subjected to the sanctions, and the US plans to impose a travel ban to restrict the movement of Russia’s top leaders.
The decisions align the US with its European allies, whose governments made similar moves earlier in the day.
“Treasury is continuing to inflict costs on the Russian Federation and President Putin for their brutal and unprovoked assault on the people of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
European leaders met into the early hours on February 25 to hammer out an agreement over a new set of sanctions aimed more broadly at the Russian economy and at Putin himself, as his troops advanced in their invasion of Ukraine.
One of the decisions was to freeze the assets of Putin and Lavrov but not to impose a travel ban on them, according to three European Union diplomats and officials familiar with the draft EU sanctions.
The new American and European sanctions are a provocative step given how rarely governments, including the US, take aim at foreign leaders. Yet they may prove largely symbolic given that the status of Putin’s financial holdings has been cloaked in mystery and his money is not believed to be held in the US.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said imposing sanctions directly on Putin “sends a clear message about the strength of the opposition to the actions by President Putin and the direction in his leadership of the Russian military.”
Adam Smith, a former Treasury Department official who is now a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said placing sanctions on Putin sent a significant message given that the US had never taken a similar action against such a powerful leader. However, he said it was unlikely that the sanctions would affect Putin’s wealth or change his calculus in Ukraine.
“I don’t think Putin is really going to lose much sleep on being sanctioned,” Smith said.c.2022 The New York Times Company