US, EU set sanctions vs Russia

The United States and several European countries have imposed a package of sanctions against Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent republics.

US President Joe Biden, who condemned Putin’s move and called it as the “beginning of a Russian invasion” of its neighbor, said the sanctions target Russia’s sovereign debt as well as two large Russian financial institutions, including the country’s military bank.

“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing. It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either,” Biden said.

Germany also stopped the approval of Nord Stream 2, an $11-billion, 1,230-kilometer (764-mile) long natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that runs from Russia to Germany’s Baltic coast. Russia owns half of the Nord Stream 2 project through its state-owned gas company Gazprom.

The United Kingdom also announced sanctions on Russia’s five banks and three Russian billionaires, including Gennady Timchenko, son of a Soviet military officer who met and befriended Putin during the early 1990s.

Also included in UK’s list are Boris Rotenberg and his nephew Igor, whose families made their fortune through the gas-pipeline construction firm Stroygazmontazh.

Josep Borrell, chief of the European Union (EU) foreign policy, said on Tuesday that all 27 EU members have agreed to pose sanctions against Russia in an aim “to inflict severe damage on the country.”

Borrell said they target to implement asset freezes and visa bans to Russians, including the 351 members of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, who supported Putin’s move.

Also targeted are banks that finance Russian decision-makers and other operations in those territories, including at least 27 individuals and entities “who are playing a role in undermining or threatening Ukrainian territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.”

“The sanctions will hurt Russia, and will hurt a lot,” Borrell said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the EU member nations had “unanimously agreed on an initial sanctions package” against Russia as he accused Putin’s government of “violating international law” and “breaching its commitments.”

Le Drian said Putin’s move showed that he “no longer honors Russia’s signature” in international accords.

Biden claimed that if Russia goes further with the invasion, they stand prepared to go further as well with sanctions.

“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbors? There is no justification for Putin’s aggression in the region. He directly attacked Ukraine’s right to exist. This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community,” Biden said.

On Monday, Putin signed a presidential decree recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two regions in eastern Ukraine known collectively as Donbas, and instructed his defense ministry to assume “the function of maintaining peace” in the eastern regions.

With the recognition, Russia can now openly send troops and weapons to support the rebels in the two regions, where fighting have been ongoing between the Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian government since 2014.

After Putin’s announcement on Monday, Biden issued an executive order prohibiting new investment, trade and financing by Americans to, from, or in the two breakaway regions.

“We’ll also impose sanctions on Russia’s elites and their family members. They share the corrupt gains of the Kremlin policies and should share in the pain as well. This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as Putin indicated and asked permission to be able to do from his Duma,” Biden said.

Though many Russians praised Putin’s move, some have expressed apprehensions on any possible consequences.

Alexey Krapukhin, a member of the liberal party Yabloko’s regional council in Moscow, said Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway regions “has put Russia on the path to social, financial and political catastrophe,” citing the plunge of Russia’s currency ruble that sent jitters through the markets.

“Already, we can see the markets falling. Every Russian will feel the consequences of this decision. Never before has modern Russia been so close to an all-out war. Nobody knows where Russian troops will stay on the frontline, or push further into Donetsk,” Krapukhin said.

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