How the U.S. and Europe Are Targeting Putin With Sanctions
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.