Monday. 27.05.2024

The United States hit Russia with a new round of sanctions of Wednesday, this time going after two major Russian banks, President Vladimir Putin's adult children and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The White House said the sanctions against Putin's inner circle are a response to the atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, particularly in the town of Bucha, where hundreds of civilians were massacred in what several world leaders are calling a likely war crime.

In another strike at the Russian economy, Russia's largest financial institution, Sberbank, and Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank, were ostracized by the US. The sanctions on them freeze any assets connected to the US financial system and prohibits US individuals from doing business with them.

"Sberbank holds nearly one-third of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets and is systemically critical to the Russian economy," according to the White House statement.

Putin's own family and some of the closest members of his political circle are also being frozen out of the US financial system, including Putin's two adult daughters, Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, Foreign Minister Lavrov's wife and daughter and members of Russia's powerful Security Council - including former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev and current Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

"These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people. Some of them are responsible for providing the support necessary to underpin Putin’s war on Ukraine," the statement said.

"The United States and more than 30 allies and partners across the world have levied the most impactful, coordinated, and wide-ranging economic restrictions in history," it added. "Experts predict Russia’s GDP will contract up to 15 percent this year, wiping out the last fifteen years of economic gains."

Washington also announced that President Joe Biden would sign an executive order that bans US citizens from making new investements in Russia, regardless of where they are located.

"Critical major Russian state-owned enterprises" will also be sanctioned, prohibiting US citizens from doing business with them and freezing their US assets. The Treasury Department was scheduled to provide more information on the companies on Thursday.

NATO: War could last 'months or years'

The US, the EU, Britain and other allies have already imposed numerous sanctions against Moscow because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So far measures have mainly targeted Russia's financial system, and the technology sector, as well as politicians and oligarchs who are considered to be close to Putin.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and has been struggling to make major gains in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance. Moscow is now moving troops to the east of the country as it refocuses its offensive.

According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, this may be just a short-term change in strategy. He said the war could last for a long time as there is no sign Putin is yet to give up his ambition to control Ukraine in its entirety.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, Stoltenberg said it was necessary to accept that the war could continue "for many months, for even years."

Stoltenberg said that NATO intelligence suggested Russian troops would be pulled back from the north of the country and a major offensive in the east would be launched, with the ultimate aim of capturing the entire Donbass region to create a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula.

Ceasefire negotiations

NATO needed to prepare itself for a long road ahead, Stoltenberg said, adding: "We need to support Ukraine, sustain our sanctions and strengthen our defences and our deterrence."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday offered Russian President Vladimir Putin to host ceasefire negotiations with Ukraine in Budapest.

Putin had called him to congratulate him on his victory in Sunday's elections, Orban said.

"I suggested to him to announce a truce [in Ukraine] as soon as possible," he said. Negotiations to that end could be held in Budapest, with the participation of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, Orban added.

However, Putin had set conditions for the start of negotiations, said Orban, adding that he had no influence on their fulfillment.

Putin's daughters, inner circle targeted in latest US sanctions