Sanctions Against Russia Include Designation of ‘Elites’ – But Not Putin

Patrick Goodenough | February 22, 2022 | 11:25pm EST
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President Biden prepares for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last June. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
President Biden prepares for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last June. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

( – Russian President Vladimir Putin is not himself targeted in the sanctions rolled out by the Biden administration on Tuesday, although a White House official said that “no option is off the table, as the president said.”

Among the package of measures responding to Putin’s recognition of two proxy states in eastern Ukraine are sanctions against five individuals, described by deputy national security advisor for international economics Daleep Singh as elites who “share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin, and they will now share in the pain.”

“Other Russian elites and their family members are now on notice that additional actions could be taken on them as well,” he said during a White House briefing. 

Asked what it would take to target Putin directly, and why the decision was not taken on Tuesday, Singh replied, “I'm not going to telegraph exactly what it would take and under what circumstances that would occur. But no option is off the table, as the president said.”

President Biden described the sanctions announced Tuesday as a “first tranche,” and said that the U.S. and allies “will continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates.”

He described Putin’s recognition of the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk as “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Asked last month if he could envisage Putin personally being sanctioned, should Russia invade Ukraine, Biden replied “yes,” then added, “I would see that.”

Biden went on to say there would be “enormous consequences” for Russia if Putin sent his forces in to invade the entire country of Ukraine – “or a lot less than that as well” – although he did say he was referring not only to economic and political costs for Russia, but also to consequences worldwide.


In Paris on Tuesday, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also confirmed that Putin was not among 27 Russian individuals and entities targeted in new E.U. sanctions for “playing a role in undermining or threatening Ukrainian territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.”

Sanctions announced by the U.K. government included three oligarchs – “three very high net worth individuals,” in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s words – but not Putin.

While U.S. sanctions against sitting heads of state are not common, there have been precedents.

The U.S. in 2016 sanctioned North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for human rights abuses, and U.S. administrations have sanctioned Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko since 2006, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011, and former Burmese strongman Than Shwe since 2007.

Other former heads of state sanctioned in past years include Charles Taylor in Liberia, and the late Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.


The U.S. Treasury Department described the five individuals targeted by the U.S. as “powerful Russians in Putin’s inner circle believed to be participating in the Russian regime’s kleptocracy and their family members.”

The sanctions block any property and property interests the five men have in the U.S., block any entities in which they own at least 50 percent stake, and make liable for sanctions any person or financial institution that does business with them.

Two of the five are already under U.S. sanctions – imposed last March in response to the attempted assassination by nerve agent of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in 2020.

They are Sergei Kiriyenko, a former prime minister and head of the state nuclear energy giant Rosatom, who is currently first deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin; and Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the Soviet KGB.

Kiriyenko and Bortnikov, along with a third of the five men listed – Bortnikov’s son, Denis Bortnikov, deputy president and chairman of the management board of one of Russia’s biggest banks, VTB Bank – are among 35 Russians listed in the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

The legislation, which Biden signed into law last December, requires the president within 180 days (that is, by June 25) to submit to Congress a determination on whether the 35 individuals named should be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, a 2016 law that provides for punitive measures against human rights abusers and corrupt actors.

The other two Russian “elites” targeted in the sanctions announced on Tuesday are:

--Kiriyenko’s son, Vladimir Kiriyenko, a former vice president of the state-controlled digital service provider Rostelecom, and now CEO of Russia’s biggest social media network company, VK.

--Petr Fradkov, CEO of Promsvyazbank, a state-backed bank that supports Russia’s defense sector. (He is also the son of a former prime minister and foreign intelligence service (SVR) chief Mikhail Fradkov, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration in 2018 “in response to worldwide malign activity.)

‘A glorified piggy bank for the Kremlin’

The sanctions against the five are part of a broader package, the most significant including the blocking of two major banks and their subsidiaries. The two are Promsvyazbank and Vnesheconombank (VEB), Russia’s fifth-largest financial institution, which Singh called “a glorified piggy bank for the Kremlin that holds more than $50 billion in assets.”

The two banks will no longer be able to carry out any transactions with the U.S. or Europe, and their assets in the U.S. and European financial systems are frozen.

Other highlights were an agreement by Germany to shut down the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and the cutting off of the Russian government from Western financing, meaning the Kremlin will no longer be able to raise money from the U.S. and Europe, or trade new debt in U.S. or European markets.

“This was the beginning of an invasion, and this is the beginning of our response,” Singh said.

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