US unveils new sanctions against Russian banks, oligarchs

Joe Biden: Freedom will prevail • G7: Putin 'on the wrong side of history'

 US President Joe Biden addresses the Russian invasion of Ukraine, from the East Room of the White House on February 24, 2022. (photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden addresses the Russian invasion of Ukraine, from the East Room of the White House on February 24, 2022.
(photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden authorized on Thursday a new set of sanctions on Russia to hold president Vladimir Putin and his country accountable for the invasion of Ukraine, and a senior administration official said there was still room to tighten them further.

Russia's second-largest lender VTB Bank is among four Russian banks, holding a total of $1 trillion in assets, that will be sanctioned by the US, along with Russian elites and their families who "profit off of Kremlin policies," Biden said. Sanctioning Vladimir Putin personally remained a possibility, Biden said. "It's not a bluff, it's on the table," Biden told reporters at the White House.

White House economic adviser Daleep Singh said that the Biden administration expects the costs of new sanctions to Russia will build over time.

"Today was a demonstration that we mean what we say," he said. "We delivered on what we said we would do in terms of imposing costs."

Biden said Putin, who "wants to reestablish the Soviet Union," has ambitions much larger than just Ukraine. However, his aggression will end up costing Russia dearly and leave him as a pariah on the international stage, the US president warned. He also said this is a dangerous moment for Europe but that freedom would prevail.

Putin said earlier on Thursday he had no other option but to order what he has called a special operation against Ukraine, saying all of Moscow's previous attempts to change the security situation had come to nothing.

In a call with Ukrainian defense minister Dmytro Kuleba, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of plans to supply new defensive weapons to Ukrainian forces. The US will not engage in battle with Russian troops in Ukraine, Biden said, adding the country's presence in eastern Europe is only to "defend fellow NATO nations."

The Kremlin is now preparing a new wave of attacks which will include airstrikes, the defense minister added.

 Ukrainians shout slogans, wave Ukrainian national and EU flags, hold banners as they protest outside Russian embassy after Moscow's decision to formally recognise two Russian-backed regions of eastern Ukraine as independent in central Kyiv, Ukraine, February 22, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS) Ukrainians shout slogans, wave Ukrainian national and EU flags, hold banners as they protest outside Russian embassy after Moscow's decision to formally recognise two Russian-backed regions of eastern Ukraine as independent in central Kyiv, Ukraine, February 22, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

In a joint statement earlier on Thursday, the Group of Seven (G7) said Putin will find himself on the wrong side of history for re-introducing war to Europe. "This crisis is a serious threat to the rules-based international order, with ramifications well beyond Europe," the G7 leaders said in the joint statement, released after a virtual meeting on Thursday. 

The G7 also condemned Belarus for its assistance in Russian aggression, saying it must abide by its international obligations. Later on Thursday, the US Treasury Department announced additional sanctioning of 24 Belarusian individuals and entities due to "Belarus’ support for, and facilitation of, the invasion."

Japan will strengthen sanctions against Russia to three areas including financial institutions and military equipment exports, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday.

World Bank President David Malpass said on Thursday the lender stands ready to provide immediate support to Ukraine amid "shocking violence and loss of life," and is preparing options for fast-disbursing financing.

Malpass said in a statement he has mobilized the World Bank Group's Global Crisis Risk platform to coordinate a response to the invasion among the lender's various divisions.

The United States believes that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is designed to decapitate Ukraine's government, with one of the three main axes of assault being directed at the capital Kyiv, a senior US defense official said on Thursday.

"It is our assessment that they have every intention of basically decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance, which would explain these early moves," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The European Union on Thursday summoned Russia's ambassador to the EU to demand an immediate end to Russia's military actions in Ukraine, the EU's diplomatic service (EEAS) said. In the meeting with the ambassador, the EU conveyed its "strongest condemnation of the unprovoked, unjustified invasion of Ukraine and the demand to cease military operations immediately, and unconditionally withdraw all forces and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine," the EEAS said.

The EU is preparing a second package of sanctions on Russian targets, specifically oligarchs close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, an EU diplomat said. The financial, transport and energy sectors in Russia are all expected to be hit hard by new EU sanctions. The diplomat added he could see a situation where Belarus is also hit with sanctions as part of their continued support for Russia.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced a ban of Russia's Aeroflot AFLT.MM in parliament on Thursday, as the UK Civil Aviation Authority said it had suspended Aeroflot's foreign carrier permit. "This means that Aeroflot will not be permitted to operate flights to the United Kingdom until further notice," the UK Civil Aviation Authority said. Canada also announced more sanctions against Russia on Thursday, targeting 62 individuals and entities, including members of the Russian elite and major Russian banks, and canceling all export permits.

On Thursday night, 10 Downing Street was lit up with the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. "To our Ukrainian friends in this moment of agony, we are with you and we are on your side," wrote Johnson in a tweet alongside a photo. "Your right to choose your own destiny is a right that the United Kingdom and our allies will always defend."

Russia would respond to European and US sanctions with tit-for-tat measures after Western nations sought to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

The sanctions with which the West will hit Moscow will decouple Russia from industrial development and damage its financial markets but are designed to open a way back to diplomacy, Germany's economy minister said.

Robert Habeck said the measures would be designed to hurt Russia badly and minimize the pain to Germany, but he warned that it would be impossible to spare the German economy entirely. "The impact of this package will have consequences, and thus contribute to opening or reopening the chances for diplomacy," he said.

A Russian invasion of Ukraine could also end a joint Finnish-Russian nuclear plant project on the northwest coast of Finland, Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintila said in parliament on Thursday.

Germany's former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has described himself as a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, called on Thursday for the war in Ukraine to end as soon as possible and for Europe's remaining ties with Russia not to be cut.

"There have been many mistakes - on both sides. But Russia's security interests do not justify the use of military means either," Schroeder wrote in a post on LinkedIn.

"With the necessary sanctions, care must be taken not to completely cut the remaining political, economic and civil society ties that exist between Europe and Russia."

Schroeder heads the shareholders' committee of Nord Stream, the company in charge of building the controversial Russian gas pipeline to Europe which now faces US sanctions, although he is not personally affected by those sanctions.

India's prime minister Narendra Modi urged an end to violence in Ukraine during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Indian government said in a statement on Thursday. "(The) Prime Minister appealed for an immediate cessation of violence, and called for concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialog," the government said.

Denmark announced on Thursday it will increase its contributions to NATO forces by deploying around 200 soldiers to Estonia as well as two F-16 fighter jets to perform aerial policing in Poland's air space, adding to NATO's bolstered troop presence on its eastern flank. The Western military alliance, set to hold an emergency summit on Friday, said it was also putting hundreds of warplanes and ships on alert.

The US will also send 7,000 troops to Germany to help reassure NATO allies who are part of a larger contingent that had already been put on alert earlier this year, a senior US defense official said. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the troops would be made up of an armored brigade combat team and would leave for Germany in the coming days.

The United States also bolstered its presence in the Baltics on Thursday, as F-35 fighter jets were deployed to Estonia and Lithuania, according to the latter's defense ministry. The Lithuanian defense ministry added that the US is extending its deployment of 500 troops in the Baltic state.

Also in the Baltics, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said Latvia will stop issuing visas to Russian nationals following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Baltic nation has also decided to bring its ambassador to Moscow back to Riga for consultations, Rinkevics said.

Colombia, Argentina and Chile on Thursday called for swift withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, as other Latin American countries rejected the use of force but stopped short of calling for a Russian exit.