WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe moved on Friday to personally penalize Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for his invasion of Ukraine, imposing sanctions aimed at freezing his wealth while continuing to try to cripple his military capabilities and economic through other new restrictions.
White House officials have said President Biden intends to impose sanctions and freeze the assets of Mr Putin, as well as Sergey V. Lavrov, his foreign minister. Other Russian national security officials will also be subject to the sanctions, and the United States plans to impose a travel ban to restrict the movement of top Russian leaders.
The decisions align the United States with its European allies, whose governments took similar steps earlier in the day.
“The Treasury continues to impose charges on the Russian Federation and President Putin for their brutal and unprovoked aggression against the people of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement announcing the sanctions.
European leaders met until the early hours of Friday to agree on a new round of sanctions aimed more broadly at the Russian economy and Mr Putin himself, as his troops progressed in their invasion of Ukraine .
One of the decisions was to freeze the assets of MM. Putin and Lavrov, but not to impose a travel ban on them, according to three diplomats and European Union officials familiar with the EU sanctions plan.
The new US and European sanctions are a provocative step given the rarity of governments, including the United States, to target foreign leaders. Yet they may prove largely symbolic given that the status of Mr Putin’s financial assets have been shrouded in mystery and his money is not believed to be held in the United States.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said imposing sanctions directly on Mr Putin “sends a clear message about the strength of opposition to President Putin’s actions and the direction of his leadership of the Russian army”.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ms Psaki said the decision was made in the past 24 hours after consultation with EU leaders. She would not comment on the impact she thought the sanctions would have on Mr Putin. But she stressed they were a show of transatlantic unity in opposition to her actions.
While the United States has imposed sanctions and frozen the assets of some Russian oligarchs, directly targeting Mr. Putin has been a significant escalation. This puts it in similar company with Presidents Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Alexander G. Lukashenko of Belarusboth of whom were personally sanctioned by the US government.
Adam M. Smith, a former Treasury Department official who is now a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said imposing sanctions on Mr. Putin sent an important message given that the United States had never taken a similar action against such a powerful leader. However, he said the sanctions were unlikely to affect Mr Putin’s wealth or alter his reckoning in Ukraine.
“I don’t think Putin is really going to lose much sleep after being sanctioned,” Mr Smith said.
The personal sanctions add to the growing list of restrictions that the Biden administration, in coordination with Europe, has put in place. The United States has imposed sanctions on Russia’s major financial institutions and the country’s sovereign debt, and on Thursday took action to block Russia from accessing U.S. technology critical to its military, aerospace and oil industry. global economy.
But the attempt to punish Mr Putin has revealed just how dependent many European countries are on Russia for energy, grain and other products. A set of sanctions, which European leaders have described as unprecedented in terms of size and scope, has been difficult to achieve consensus even as Russian forces approached Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
European economies are deeply intertwined with the Russian economy, and the more the European Union looks into Russian sanctions, the more its own members will also feel the pain. The toughest of sanctions could even derail the bloc’s bid to recover from the coronavirus pandemic-induced recession.
This is why the negotiators left out particularly difficult elements, such as the imposition of sanctions on oil and gas companies or the banning of Russia from SWIFT, the platform used to carry out global financial transactions in the raw materials whose wheat. EU officials said a key reason for their reluctance to cut off Russia’s access to the platform was that Europe was using it to pay for the gas it bought from Russia. .
Experts said the approved sanctions were severe and the speed at which the European Union was moving forward was impressive. But some have criticized the leaders for not going further.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was scathing in a statement posted on Facebook Friday.
“This morning, we are defending our state alone,” he said. “Like yesterday, the most powerful forces in the world are watching from afar. Did yesterday’s sanctions convince Russia? We hear in our heavens and see on our earth that this was not enough.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, who did the painstaking technical work behind the sanctions, said on Friday that the sanctions would harm the Russian economy’s ability to function by depriving it of important technologies and access. to financing.
Its most ambitious elements were also the most technical: the European Union will ban the export of planes and spare parts necessary for the maintenance of Russian fleets. Ms von der Leyen said three-quarters of the planes in the Russian air fleet were made in the European Union, the United States or Canada, and the new restrictions effectively meant that many planes would soon be grounded.
The bloc will also ban the export of specialized oil refining technology as well as semiconductors, and it will penalize more banks – although it will stop short of targeting VTB, Russia’s second largest bank, which has already hit by US and UK sanctions. , according to a draft outlining the penalties seen by The New York Times.
And the European Union will target Russian elites by cutting diplomatic and service passport holders’ access to EU visas and limiting the ability of Russian nationals to make deposits of more than 100,000 euros (about 113,000 dollars) to European bank accounts.
The way EU sanctions on Russia are shaping up shows that some EU countries, the most important of which are Germany and Italy, prefer a gradual approach to penalizing Mr Putin, in part to protect a fragile recovery post-pandemic economy in Europe.
On the other side are neighboring countries of Russia and Ukraine, such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the Nordic members of the European Union and the Netherlands. They would rather not split the sanctions into smaller packages, but rather hit Mr. Putin with crushing economic measures that really hurt.
Ms. Psaki said the Biden administration continues to consider additional options such as sanctions that would target Russia’s energy sector. However, the White House is aware that rising oil prices could help Mr. Putin while raising gasoline prices in the United States.
“Our sanctions are designed to harm the Russian economy,” Ms. Psaki said, “not our economy.”
Alan Rappeport and Katie Rogers reported from Washington, and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels.