WASHINGTON (AP): The Biden administration ordered new sanctions blocking Russian business oligarchs and others in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle on Thursday in response to Russian forces’ fierce pummeling of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke late Thursday as Russian forces shelled Europe’s largest nuclear plant, in the eastern Ukraine city of Enerhodar. The assault sparked a fire and raised fears that radiation could leak from the damaged power station.
The White House said Biden joined Zelenskyy in urging Russia to “cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.”
Those targeted by the new U.S. sanctions include Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals and a close ally of Putin. The U.S. State Department also announced it was imposing visa bans on 19 Russian oligarchs and dozens of their family members and close associates.
“The goal was to maximize impact on Putin and Russia and minimize the harm on us and our allies and friends around the world,” Biden said as he noted the new sanctions at the start of a meeting with his Cabinet and Vice President Kamala Harris.
The White House said the oligarchs and dozens of their family members will be cut off from the U.S. financial system. Their assets in the United States will be frozen and their property will be blocked from use.
The White House described Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, as ”a top purveyor of Putin’s propaganda.”
The property of Usmanov and the others will be blocked from use in the United States and by Americans. His assets include his superyacht, one of the world’s largest, and his private jet, one of Russia’s largest privately owned aircraft.
The Usmanov superyacht, known as Dilbar, is named after Usmanov’s mother and has an estimated worth of between $600 million and $735 million, according to Treasury. Dilbar has two helipads and one of the world’s largest indoor pools ever installed on a yacht, and costs about $60 million per year to operate. The jet targeted is believed to have cost between $350 million and $500 million and was previously leased out for use by Uzbekistan’s president.
Others targeted Thursday include Nikolai Tokarev, a Transneft oil executive; Arkady Rotenberg, co-owner of the largest construction company for gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines in Russia; Sergei Chemezov, a former KGB agent who has long been close to Putin; Igor Shuvalov, a former first deputy prime minister and chairman of State Development Corp.; and Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with close ties to Putin.
Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef,” was among those charged in 2018 by the U.S. government as being part of a wide-ranging effort to sway political opinion in America during the 2016 presidential election.
According to the indictment then, Prigozhin and his companies provided significant funding to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based group accused of using bogus social media postings and advertisements fraudulently purchased in the name of Americans to influence the White House race.
Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said Thursday that the Biden administration would continue to target Russian elites as it builds sanctions against the country. He said elites are already “attempting to get their money out of Russia, because the Russian economy is shrinking.”
“We’re going to make it hard for them to use the assets going forward,” Adeyemo said at an event hosted by The Washington Post. He added, “Our goal then is to find that money and to freeze that money and to seize it.”
The Biden administration has been unveiling new sanctions targeting Russian individuals and entities daily since the start of last week’s invasion, with officials saying they want to make certain Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine will come with enormous cost to Russia’s economy.
A notable aspect of the latest sanctions is the extent to which the U.S. penalized the family members of oligarchs and those closest to Putin. Recently passed anti-money-laundering legislation passed by Congress has helped Treasury unveil and target such people.
For example, the oil executive Tokarev’s family members — including his wife, Galina Tokareva, and daughter, Maiya Tokareva — have benefited from his proximity to Putin and Russian government and were hit by the sanctions. Maiya Tokareva’s real estate empire has been valued at more than $50 million in Moscow, according to Treasury.
Russian elites that have yet to be targeted by the U.S. or other Western countries have taken notice of the sanctions.
Faced with the threat of financial sanctions targeting Russians, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich announced Wednesday he is trying to sell the Premier League soccer club that became a trophy-winning machine thanks to his lavish investment. Abramovich made his fortune in oil and aluminum during the chaotic years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Biden had thus far been reluctant to hit the Russia energy sector with sanctions out of concern that it would hurt the U.S. and its allies as well as the Russians.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy.”