EXPLAINER: Why US sanctions may target individual Russians

The White House and U

Russia Ukraine Sanctions Explainer
Russia Ukraine Sanctions Explainer

The White House and U.S. officials have threatened Russia with financial sanctions carrying “severe consequences” if it invades Ukraine but so far plenty of people have been prime targets for Western pain.

Experts say it’s unlikely the U.S. and its allies would agree to something as sweeping as a complete ban on trade with Russia or an embargo. Rather, industries and individuals probably will continue to bear the brunt of sanctions as the crisis deepens.

The Kremlin has shrugged off the sanctions against Russian officials and business leaders imposed by the U.S. and its allies. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this past week that members of Congress seem to fail to notice that Russian law bans officials from having any foreign assets.

The U.S. maintains that those targeted lose substantial revenue and asset value from financial penalties that could curb, for instance, an oligarch's shopping sprees and investments.

Geopolitics, European dependence on Russian natural gas and the sheer size of Russia are some of the reasons keeping the U.S. from subjecting Moscow to a more comprehensive embargo similar to what is seen in Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

A look at how and why the West might opt to target sanctions at specific people or industries in Russia rather than going bigger:

WHY GO AFTER INDIVIDUALS RATHER THAN ORGANIZATIONS?

Sometimes the more narrow jab is meant to avoid inflicting unintended pain on ordinary people or causing action that will boomerang back on Western interests.

A recent Congressional Research Service report said the U.S. and European Union aim to impose sanctions “in a way that could get Russia to change its behavior while minimizing collateral damage to the Russian people and to the economic interests of the countries imposing sanctions.”

Germany’s leaders have promised that the future of the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be “on the table” if Russia moves against Ukraine. The pipeline was built to move Russia’s natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Blocking it would hit Russia’s gas exports in a crucial market.

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHO GET TARGETED?

According to the CRS, several politically connected Russian billionaires and their companies are targets for sanctions. The Treasury Department's foreign assets enforcement arm has cited at least 445 people and businesses as “specially designated nationals and blocked persons." These are largely related to the destabilization of Ukraine, misappropriation of assets and operations in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine.

Among the targets are government officials and heads of state-owned companies, including Russia’s interior minister, the directors of foreign intelligence and the federal penitentiary service, and the chairs of both houses of parliament. The CEOs of state-owned oil and gas companies Rosneft and Gazprom, defense company Rostec and several banks could also expect sanctions.

WHAT KIND OF SANCTIONS HAS THE US IMPOSED ON RUSSIANS IN THE PAST?

Western sanctions issued when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014 included limits on trade, the blocking of assets under American jurisdiction and limits on access to the U.S. financial system, which are maintained to this day on at least 735 individuals, entities and vessels, according to the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

In the past year, the U.S. has layered on additional sanctions.

This month, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned four people — two of them are members of the Ukrainian parliament — alleged to be engaged in Russian government-directed activities meant to destabilize Ukraine. Last April, 16 individuals and entities were sanctioned for what Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called “the start of a new U.S. campaign against Russian malign behavior.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top officials could incur personal penalties “far beyond what was done in 2014” because of Crimea.

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE SANCTIONS ON INDIVIDUALS?

Personal sanctions are not nearly as effective as those on industries, which the administration is also considering. But they can inflict psychological pain and make targets international pariahs. For instance, some Republicans in Congress want the U.S. to consider sanctioning Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics reported to be Putin’s girlfriend.

Assets owned by Putin himself are difficult to target.

“His wealth is hidden all over the world and tracking that stuff is not easy. But it will make his life more difficult,” said Scheherazade Rehman, professor of international business and international affairs at George Washington University.

Asked this past week about Biden keeping the door open for personal sanctions against Putin if Russia invades Ukraine, Peskov warned that such a move would be “politically destructive” for Russia's ties with the U.S.

U.S. sanctions on Russia can have broad economic effects if they are applied to economically significant targets — and some programs do that by targeting both particular people and businesses as well as prohibiting certain types of transactions.

WHAT OTHER KINDS OF PENALTIES ARE IN THE US TOOLKIT?

Several federal agencies can also play a part in enforcing sanctions or limiting commercial activity. The State Department can restrict visas and foreign aid, and the Commerce Department can restrict licenses for commercial exports. The Defense Department can restrict arms sales and the Justice Department can prosecute those who violate export laws. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI can review visas issued for travel to the United States.

___

Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in