The US has announced fresh sanctions targeting two daughters of Vladimir Putin, as well as Russia’s biggest public and private banks, as part of a common western effort to starve Vladimir Putin’s war machine of funds.
The sanctions targeting Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, two adult daughters of Putin’s with his former wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva, were announced by the White House as the UK announced further economic sanctions and restrictions on eight oligarchs, while the EU wrangled over banning Russian coal.
The US said “full blocking” sanctions would also be imposed on the wife and daughter of the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and members of Russia’s security council, including the former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people,” the administration said. “Some of them are responsible for providing the support necessary to underpin Putin’s war on Ukraine. This action cuts them off from the US financial system and freezes any assets they hold in the United States.”
“We believe that many of Putin’s assets are hidden with family members, and that’s why we’re targeting them,” a senior US official told reporters, referring to Putin’s two daughters.
The US president, Joe Biden, directly linked the new measures to the killing of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, tweeting that he had “made clear that Russia would pay a severe and immediate price for its atrocities” there. On the ground on Wednesday Russia continued to launch heavy shelling on targets in the east, and Ukrainian authorities urged civilians to leave “while the opportunity still exists” before a massive Russian military assault that it expects in the coming days.
Biden will sign an executive order that includes a ban on new investment in Russia by Americans from any location, intended to further isolate Russia from the global economy. The White House also declared “full blocking” sanctions on Russia’s largest public and private financial institutions, Sberbank and Alfa Bank, and said all new US investment in Russia was now prohibited.
In Brussels, however, diplomats are yet to approve EU sanctions proposed by the European Commission on Tuesday, including banning Russian coal imports, as part of a wider package of measures that would further restrict trade with its eastern neighbour. The EU sanctions, which also include a ban on Russian ships docking at EU ports, are expected to be finalised on Thursday, after last-minute wrangling on details, such as the coal phase-out.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking to both houses of the Irish parliament, said he could not tolerate “any indecisiveness after everything that Russian troops have done”. Some western leaders, he said, “still think that war and war crimes are not something as horrific as financial losses”.
On the day the pope kissed a battered Ukrainian flag brought to him from Bucha and denounced “horrendous cruelty”, Ukrainian officials reported that up to 300 people were buried in one mass grave in the town.
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, promised the latest sanctions would not be the last. “Now we have to look into oil and we will have to look into the revenues that Russia gets from fossil fuels,” she told the European parliament.
The enormity of that sum was laid bare by the bloc’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, who said the EU had given €35bn to Putin in fossil fuel payments since the war began, compared with €1bn in arms for Ukraine.
Lithuania, one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies in the bloc, which has been pressing for a ban on all fossil-fuel imports from Russia, said the proposals were “not really an adequate response” to the horrors being discovered in Ukrainian towns. “A feeble response is just an invitation for more atrocities,” said Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis. “It could and should be stronger.”
Lithuania announced on Sunday it had stopped imports of Russian gas, the first EU member state to do so, but the EU as a whole, which gets 41% of its gas imports from its eastern neighbour, is reluctant to take that step. Germany gets 55% of its gas from Russia and is worried about unemployment and rocketing petrol prices, concerns shared by Austria and Hungary.
The EU accelerated faltering talks on further sanctions against Russia, adding in coal at the last minute after evidence of the alleged war crimes against civilians.
The ban on coal imports, worth €4bn a year to Russia, is not nearly as contentious as oil and gas. Germany, which had already announced a plan to stop using Russian coal by the end of the summer, appeared to support a commission proposal to phase out existing contracts for coal within three months, according to a diplomatic source. Germany and Austria, perceived as hesitant on energy sanctions, “seem to start to realise that opposition to an oil embargo is becoming untenable”, the source said.
Hungary is now seen as the most hardline in opposing further energy sanctions. Its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who was congratulated by the Kremlin on his electoral victory on Monday, argues that banning Russian energy would not be in his country’s interest.
In a blow to EU unity, Orbán announced Hungary would have “no difficulty” in paying for Russian gas in roubles and would do so if Moscow asked. Germany and Italy, other big EU consumers of Russian gas, have refused Putin’s request to pay for gas shipments in roubles, although Berlin found a workaround that would allow it to pay for gas in euros, which would then be converted into roubles by Russia’s Gazprombank.
The bloc is also expected to add Putin’s daughters to its list of people subject to asset freezes and travel bans.
Vorontsova, Putin’s eldest daughter, is reported to be a specialist in rare diseases in children. Tikhonova, an academic who for years competed in acrobatic rock’n’roll dance contests, was appointed in 2020 to run an artificial intelligence institute at Moscow State University, according to reports at the time.
The UK separately said it would impose a full asset freeze on Russia’s largest bank and end all imports of oil and coal by the end of the year. Sanctions will also be imposed on eight more oligarchs, including Moshe Kantor, the largest shareholder of the fertiliser company Acron, and Andrey Guryev, the founder of another key fertiliser company, whom the UK described as a close associate of Putin.
As well as a ban on coal, the European Commission has proposed a full transaction ban on four Russian banks, including the second largest, VTB. Under the proposals announced on Tuesday by Von der Leyen, Russian and Belarusian road transport companies would be banned from entering the EU, restrictions would be slapped on hi-tech EU exports and Russian imports from wood to liquor.
Von der Leyen’s announcement, the first time EU sanctions have been revealed in public before their official adoption, has irritated diplomats, who are not expected to reach an agreement until Thursday.
The Netherlands, home to the EU’s largest port, Rotterdam, is understood to support the ban on Russian ships. Supporters of strong sanctions are also urging for “some weird derogations” in existing sanctions to be removed, for instance closing loopholes in earlier measures banning the sale of EU luxury goods to Russia.
Russia has denied any responsibility for the deaths in Bucha, claiming photos were staged or people were killed after their forces pulled out. Satellite images, however, show bodies lying in streets in towns under Russian occupation.
Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, described Moscow’s claims as “a cynical assertion spread by Russia” and told lawmakers he expected more images to emerge like those from Bucha.