The White House will shortly issue new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and their families, as Vladimir Putin showed no sign of deescalating Russia’s devastating military attacks on Ukraine.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, confirmed the forthcoming sanctions and said the move was meant to put more pressure on Putin by targeting his inner circle of allies.
“We want him to feel the squeeze. We want the people around him to feel the squeeze,” Psaki said. “I don’t believe this is going to be the last set of oligarchs.”
Psaki did not provide many details on the sanctions, although she did indicate they would include a US travel ban on the oligarchs. Joe Biden is expected to provide more details on the sanctions at his cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon.
The announcement marks an escalation by the Biden administration, which had already imposed sanctions on Putin, his foreign minister and some of the top executives of Russia’s largest companies following the invasion of Ukraine. Biden indicated in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that his administration would crack down on oligarchs’ assets as part of the West’s efforts to further isolate Putin.
“I say to the Russian oligarchs and the corrupt leaders who’ve bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more,” Biden said Tuesday. “We’re joining with European Allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.”
The new sanctions came as the White House asked Congress for another $10bn in aid to Ukraine. Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the money would be used to provide Ukraine with more defense equipment and emergency food assistance, as well as bolster enforcement of the sanctions against Russia.
“Given the rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine, additional needs may arise over time,” Young said.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she supports including the funding for Ukraine in the omnibus spending package currently being debated in Congress. Pelosi also echoed demands to ban US imports of Russian oil, telling reporters, “I’m all for that. Ban it. Ban the oil coming from Russia.”
But the White House has voiced a more skeptical opinion of sanctioning Russian oil companies, amid concerns that the crisis in Ukraine could drive gas prices higher. “We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” Psaki said. “That would raise prices at the gas pump for the American people.”
Any sanctions imposed by the White House may be coming too late for millions of Ukrainians. More than 1 million people have already fled the country because of the Russian invasion, and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has begged for more assistance from Western allies to end Putin’s airstrikes.
“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes!” he said Thursday. “If we are no more, then, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next.”
Expectations are low for the second round of peace talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Belarus. A phone call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday yielded no major breakthroughs, and concerns are mounting over a massive Russian convoy of tanks and artillery outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
The French Élysée palace said after the call, “We expect the worst is yet to come.”