U.S. to sanction Putin directly, White House says

·2 min read

President Biden will impose direct sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday.

Psaki confirmed reports that the United States would follow the lead of the European Union and the United Kingdom in sanctioning Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Following a telephone conversation President Biden held with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and in alignment with the decision by our European allies, the United States will join them in sanctioning President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team,” Psaki said, adding that she expected the White House to provide more specific details about the new sanctions later Friday afternoon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Thursday. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

The U.S. and its allies have announced a variety of economic sanctions against Russia this week targeting state-owned banks, high-end technology imports as well as a number of wealthy elites and members of Putin’s inner circle. On Thursday, Biden said that the possibility of sanctioning Putin personally remained “on the table.”

Some experts have questioned the effectiveness of such measures, noting that Putin has taken a number of steps to beef up his country’s economic defenses since it was hit hard by Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since then, Russia has drastically reduced its use of the dollar, and diverted oil and gas revenue to build up more than $630 billion in hard currency reserves, making it the fourth-largest such reserve in the world.

Bruce Jentleson, a former State Department official and professor of public policy at Duke University, said Thursday that many of the Russian elites targeted by the West have taken similar steps to insulate their finances.

“The issue here is they've had time to plan for this,” he said. “There's been a lot of moving of assets out of reach of those sanctions, out of London, out of American-affiliated banks and the like.”

Jentleson, a distinguished fellow at the Wilson Center, said Putin has likely done the same, and suggested that any sanctions the U.S. might impose against the Russian president or his family “would be largely a symbolic action” and could even be used to undermine U.S. credibility if they are ineffective.