The U.S. and Europe target Putin with sanctions.
WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe moved on Friday to personally penalize President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for his invasion of Ukraine, imposing sanctions aimed at freezing his wealth while continuing to try to cripple his military and economic capabilities through other new restrictions.
White House officials said that President Biden intended to impose sanctions and freeze the assets of Mr. Putin, along with Sergey V. Lavrov, his foreign minister. Other Russian national security officials will also be subject to the sanctions, and the United States plans to impose a travel ban to restrict the movement of Russia’s top leaders.
The decisions align the United States with its European allies, whose governments made similar moves earlier in the day.
“Treasury is continuing to inflict costs on the Russian Federation and President Putin for their brutal and unprovoked assault on the people of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement announcing the sanctions.
European leaders met into the early hours of Friday to hammer out an agreement over a new set of sanctions aimed more broadly at the Russian economy and at Mr. Putin himself, as his troops advanced in their invasion of Ukraine.
One of the decisions was to freeze the assets of Mr. Putin and Mr. Lavrov, but not to impose a travel ban on them, according to three European Union diplomats and officials familiar with the draft E.U. sanctions.
The new American and European sanctions are a provocative step given how rarely governments, including the United States, take aim at foreign leaders. Yet they may prove largely symbolic given that the status of Mr. Putin’s financial holdings has been cloaked in mystery and his money is not believed to be held in the United States.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that imposing sanctions directly on Mr. Putin “sends a clear message about the strength of the opposition to the actions by President Putin and the direction in his leadership of the Russian military.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ms. Psaki said the decision had been made in the past 24 hours after consultation with European leaders. She would not comment on what impact she believed the sanctions would have on Mr. Putin. But she underscored that they were a demonstration of trans-Atlantic unity in opposition to his actions.
While the United States has imposed sanctions on and frozen the assets of some Russian oligarchs, targeting Mr. Putin directly was a significant escalation. It puts him in similar company with Presidents Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, both of whom have been subject to personal sanctions by the U.S. government.
Adam M. Smith, a former Treasury Department official who is now a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said placing sanctions on Mr. Putin sent a significant message given that the United States had never taken a similar action against such a powerful leader. However, he said that it was unlikely that the sanctions would affect Mr. Putin’s wealth or change his calculus in Ukraine.
“I don’t think Putin is really going to lose much sleep on being sanctioned,” Mr. Smith said.
The personal sanctions add to the growing list of restrictions that the Biden administration, in coordination with Europe, has rolled out. The United States has placed sanctions on major Russian financial institutions and the nation’s sovereign debt, and on Thursday, it took steps to prevent Russia from gaining access to American technology critical for its military, aerospace industry and overall economy.
But the attempt to punish Mr. Putin has exposed the degree to which many European countries rely on Russia for energy, grains and other products. A package of penalties, which European leaders described as unprecedented in terms of its size and reach, was difficult to forge consensus on, even as Russian forces approached Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
Europe’s economies are deeply intertwined with Russia’s economy, and the more the European Union leans into Russian sanctions, the more its own members will also feel the pain. The toughest of sanctions could even derail the bloc’s tentative recovery from the recession induced by the coronavirus pandemic.
That is why negotiators left off the table particularly difficult elements, such as imposing sanctions on oil and gas companies or banning Russia from SWIFT, the platform used to carry out global financial transactions on commodities including wheat. E.U. officials said one key reason for their reluctance to cut off Russia’s access to the platform was that Europe uses it to pay for the gas it buys from Russia.
Experts said that the approved sanctions were tough and that the speed at which the European Union was moving was impressive. But some were critical of the leaders for not going further.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was scathing in a statement posted on Facebook on Friday.
“This morning, we are defending our state alone,” he said. “Like yesterday, the world’s most powerful forces are watching from afar. Did yesterday’s sanctions convince Russia? We hear in our sky and see on our earth this was not enough.”
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Are these tensions just starting now? Antagonism between the two nations has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, after an uprising in Ukraine replaced their Russia-friendly president with a pro-Western government. Then, Russia annexed Crimea and inspired a separatist movement in the east. A cease-fire was negotiated in 2015, but fighting has continued.
How did this invasion unfold? After amassing a military presence near the Ukrainian border for months, on Feb. 21, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed decrees recognizing two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. On Feb. 23, he declared the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Several attacks on cities around the country have since unfolded.
What has Mr. Putin said about the attacks? Mr. Putin said he was acting after receiving a plea for assistance from the leaders of the Russian-backed separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, citing the false accusation that Ukrainian forces had been carrying out ethnic cleansing there and arguing that the very idea of Ukrainian statehood was a fiction.
How has Ukraine responded? On Feb. 23, Ukraine declared a 30-day state of emergency as cyberattacks knocked out government institutions. Following the beginning of the attacks, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, declared martial law. The foreign minister called the attacks “a full-scale invasion” and called on the world to “stop Putin.”
How has the rest of the world reacted? The United States, the European Union and others have condemned Russia’s aggression and begun issuing economic sanctions against Russia. Germany announced on Feb. 23 that it would halt certification of a gas pipeline linking it with Russia. China refused to call the attack an “invasion,” but did call for dialogue.
How could this affect the economy? Russia controls vast global resources — natural gas, oil, wheat, palladium and nickel in particular — so the conflict could have far-reaching consequences, prompting spikes in energy and food prices and spooking investors. Global banks are also bracing for the effects of sanctions.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, which carried out the painstaking technical work behind the sanctions, said on Friday that the penalties would hit the Russian economy’s ability to function by starving it of important technology and access to finance.
Its most ambitious elements were also the most technical: The European Union will ban the export of aircraft and spare parts that are necessary for the maintenance of Russian fleets. Ms. von der Leyen said that three-quarters of the aircraft in the Russian aviation fleet were made in the European Union, the United States or Canada, and that the new restrictions effectively meant many planes would soon be grounded.
The bloc will also ban the export of specialized oil-refining technology as well as semiconductors, and it will penalize more banks — although it will stop short of targeting VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, which has already been hit with American and British sanctions, according to a draft describing the penalties seen by The New York Times.
And the European Union will target Russian elites by cutting diplomatic and service passport holders’ access to E.U. visas, and by limiting the ability of Russian nationals to make deposits of more than 100,000 euros (about $113,000) into European bank accounts.
The way Europe’s sanctions against Russia are shaping up highlights that some E.U. countries, most prominent among them Germany and Italy, prefer an incremental approach to penalizing Mr. Putin, in part to protect a fragile post-pandemic economic recovery in Europe.
On the other side are countries neighboring Russia and Ukraine, like Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the European Union’s Nordic members and the Netherlands. They would prefer not to break up the sanctions into smaller packages but rather to hit Mr. Putin with overwhelming economic measures that truly sting.
Ms. Psaki said that the Biden administration was continuing to consider additional options such as sanctions that would target Russia’s energy sector. However, the White House is mindful that driving up oil prices could be helpful to Mr. Putin while increasing gasoline prices in the United States.
“Our sanctions are designed to harm Russia’s economy,” Ms. Psaki said, “not our economy.”
Alan Rappeport and Katie Rogers reported from Washington, and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels.