The Biden administration on Wednesday announced new sanctions on Russia, including on dictator Vladimir Putin’s adult daughters, following new evidence of war crimes by Russian soldiers in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The sickening brutality in Bucha has made tragically clear the despicable nature of the Putin regime,” a senior administration official said Wednesday morning on condition of anonymity. “Today, in alignment with [wealthy Group of Seven] allies and partners, we’re intensifying the most severe sanctions ever levied on a major economy.”
The new measures freeze any American assets of Sberbank, Russia’s largest financial institution, and Alfa Bank, the largest Russian private bank, barring them from any contact with the sprawling U.S. financial system or American individuals. They also target Russian individuals, including Putin’s children and some of his top advisers. And President Joe Biden is issuing a bar on new investment in Russia by Americans.
The administration official said the sanctions that have been imposed previously are already causing Russia’s economy to contract by double digits and have created inflation of 15% and interest rates topping 20% ― and that the new sanctions will exacerbate those conditions.
“The sanctions are generating the impact we warned Putin about for months,” the official said. “And at this rate, it will go back to Soviet-style living standards from the 1980s.”
The official acknowledged that Putin has so far not backed down from his invasion despite his worsening economy, but said popular unrest could eventually hurt the dictator.
“Even an autocrat like Putin has a social contract with the Russian people. He took away their freedom in exchange for promising stability. He’s not giving them stability at the moment. He’s giving them instability, and insecurity,” the official said. “What’s the end game here for Putin? What’s he playing for? This is very clearly becoming a failure for him. At some point he will have to recognize that reality.”
The official said that family members of Russian leaders are also being named because Russian officials and oligarchs hide their wealth in the United States and other Western countries through their spouses and children.
“Yes, we believe that many of Putin’s assets are hidden with family members. And that’s why we’re targeting them,” the official said, confirming that the sanctions specifically name Putin daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Putina.
After Russian troops withdrew from Bucha, a small city north of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces and journalists have in recent days discovered slain civilians — some of them with their hands tied behind their backs — in the streets and in mass graves filled with more than 250 people. Russian troops also killed dozens of civilians in two other towns near Kyiv, Irpin and Hostomel, while they controlled those areas, Ukrainian officials say.
“Mothers of Russian soldiers should see that. See what bastards you’ve raised,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of the mounting evidence of atrocities on Telegram on Sunday. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused Moscow of “brutality against civilians we haven’t seen in Europe for decades.”
Russia claims the apparent excesses have been staged by Ukraine and its international friends. But footage from Bucha shows civilian corpses lying along the streets weeks before the Russians left town, according to a New York Times analysis of videos by residents and satellite images from the intelligence firm Maxar Technologies.
The U.S. is now attempting to expel Russia from the human rights council at the United Nations. The Biden administration has said it is gathering proof of rights violations by the Russians and France, Britain and Germany also believe Putin’s forces have committed abuses.
Washington and its partners have already imposed unprecedented pressure on Russia over Ukraine, targeting its financial system, some of its most powerful people and its global influence to try to push Putin to relent and cut a deal with Zelenskyy.
The administration official on Wednesday said that if Putin changes his behavior, the sanctions can be lessened or lifted.
“None of this is permanent. The only aspect that’s permanent is the lives that he’s taken away, and he can never bring those back. But the sanctions are designed to be able to respond to the conditions on the ground, and to create leverage for the outcome we seek,” the official said.