US and EU pile new sanctions on Russia for the Ukraine war’s 2nd anniversary and Navalny’s death

The United States will impose the largest single tranche of penalties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The European Union’s sanctions will target companies and Russian officials and businessmen

A flower and a picture are left as a tribute to Russian politician Alexei Navalny, near to the Russian Embassy in London, Feb. 18, 2024.
A flower and a picture are left as a tribute to Russian politician Alexei Navalny, near to the Russian Embassy in London, Feb. 18, 2024.Kirsty Wigglesworth (AP)

The United States and the European Union are piling new sanctions on Russia on the eve of the second anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine and in retaliation for the death of noted Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny last week in an Arctic penal colony.

The U.S. Treasury, State Department and Commerce Department plan Friday to impose roughly 600 new sanctions on Russia and its war machine in the largest single tranche of penalties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. They come on the heels of a series of new arrests and indictments announced by the Justice Department on Thursday that target Russian businessmen, including the head of Russia’s second-largest bank, and their middlemen in five separate federal cases.

The European Union announced Friday that it is imposing sanctions on several foreign companies over allegations that they have exported dual-use goods to Russia that could be used in its war against Ukraine. The 27-nation bloc also said that it was targeting scores of Russian officials, including “members of the judiciary, local politicians and people responsible for the illegal deportation and military re-education of Ukrainian children.”

“The American people and people around the world understand that the stakes of this fight extend far beyond Ukraine,” President Joe Biden said in a statement announcing the sanctions. “If Putin does not pay the price for his death and destruction, he will keep going. And the costs to the United States — along with our NATO Allies and partners in Europe and around the world — will rise.”

While previous sanctions have increased costs for Russia’s ability to fight in Ukraine, they appear to have done little so far to deter Putin’s aggression or ambitions. The Biden administration is levying additional sanctions as House Republicans are blocking billions of dollars in additional aid to Ukraine.

The war is becoming entangled in U.S. election-year politics, with former President Donald Trump voicing skepticism about the benefits of the NATO alliance and saying that he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to countries that, in his view, are not pulling their weight in the alliance.

Many of the new U.S. sanctions announced Friday target Russian firms that contribute to the Kremlin’s war effort — including drone and industrial chemical manufacturers and machine tool importers — as well as financial institutions, such as the state-owned operator of Russia’s Mir National Payment System.

In response to Navalny’s death, the State Department is designating three Russian officials the U.S. says are connected to his death. It also will impose visa restrictions on Russian authorities it says are involved in the kidnapping and confinement of Ukrainian children.

In addition, 26 third-country people and firms from across China, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates, and Liechtenstein are listed for sanctions, for assisting Russia in evading existing financial penalties.

The Russian foreign ministry said the EU sanctions are “illegal” and undermine “the international legal prerogatives of the UN Security Council.” In response, the ministry is banning some EU citizens from entering the country because they have provided military assistance to Ukraine. It did not immediately address the U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. specifically was to target individuals associated with Navalny’s imprisonment a day after Biden met with the opposition leader’s widow and daughter in California. It was also hitting “Russia’s financial sector, defense industrial base, procurement networks and sanctions evaders across multiple continents,” Biden said. “They will ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home.”

The EU asset freezes and travel bans constitute the 13th package of measures imposed by the bloc against people and organizations it suspects of undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“Today, we are further tightening the restrictive measures against Russia’s military and defense sector,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. “We remain united in our determination to dent Russia’s war machine and help Ukraine win its legitimate fight for self-defense.”

In all, 106 more officials and 88 “entities” — often companies, banks, government agencies or other organizations — have been added to the bloc’s sanctions list, bringing the tally of those targeted to more than 2,000 people and entities, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates.

Companies making electronic components, which the EU believes could have military as well as civilian uses, were among 27 entities accused of “directly supporting Russia’s military and industrial complex in its war of aggression against Ukraine,” a statement said.

Those companies — some of them based in India, Sri Lanka, China, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Turkey — face tougher export restrictions.

The bloc said the companies “have been involved in the circumvention of trade restrictions,” and it accuses others of “the development, production and supply of electronic components” destined to help Russia’s armed forces.

Some of the measures are aimed at depriving Russia of parts for pilotless drones, which are seen by military experts as key to the war.

Since the start of the war, U.S. Treasury and State departments have designated over 4,000 officials, oligarchs, firms, banks and others under Russia-related sanctions authorities. A $60 per barrel price cap has also been imposed on Russian oil by Group of Seven allies, intended to reduce Russia’s revenues from fossil fuels.

Critics of the sanctions, price cap and other measures meant to stop Russia’s invasion say they are not working fast enough.

Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that primarily sanctioning Russia’s defense industry and failing to cut meaningfully into Russia’s energy revenues will not be enough to halt the war.

“One way or another, they will have to eventually address Russia’s oil revenues and have to consider an oil embargo,” Snegovaya said. “The oil price cap has effectively stopped working.”

Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo, in previewing the new sanctions, told reporters that the U.S. and its allies will not lower the price cap; “rather what we’ll be doing is taking actions that will increase the cost” of Russia’s production of oil.

He added that “sanctions alone are not enough to carry Ukraine to victory.”

“We owe the Ukrainian people who have held on for so long the support and resources they desperately need to defend their homeland and prove Putin wrong once and for all time.”

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