The White House is planning to hit Russian banks, government-owned companies and the country’s import sector with sanctions if Moscow decides to invade Ukraine, according to a new report published Friday.
Administration officials claimed to the Wall Street Journal that the penalties would far outstrip other actions taken against Russia in recent years.
“We would start high and stay high, and maximize the pain to the Kremlin,” as one official put it.
However, the Journal also reported that sanctions targeting Moscow’s oil and gas exports are not being considered, at least for now. The proposed sanctions would also keep intact Russian banks’ access to SWIFT, a global telecommunications network that helps banks make international transactions.
The officials added that no final decisions have been made about which companies would be targeted.
Firms that are likely to be affected by sanctions include state-backed VTB Bank, Gazprombank and Sberbank, the last of which holds 30 percent of the net assets in Russia’s financial system, according to the report. However, the Journal also reported that Sberbank may not be affected in the first round of sanctions.
The US is also reportedly considering banning trade related to Russia’s sovereign debt and controlling exports to the country of various items, including microelectronics.
President Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of “severe” economic sanctions since late last year, calling for diplomacy between the two nations instead.
Unlike in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, the US is in closer touch with its European allies about potential punishments for Russia, the White House claims.
“If we’re going to change Putin’s calculus, we have to be ready together to impose massive consequences,” the official told the Journal, before vowing that any sanctions would “deliver a severe and immediate blow to Russia and over time make its economy even more brittle.”
Fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have grown among Western nations in recent weeks, leading the US and UK to begin evacuating families of diplomats from their respective embassies.
The US and NATO have also stepped up their military presence in Eastern Europe in the event of an invasion, and have sent millions of dollars worth of military equipment to Ukraine.
While Ukrainian officials have graciously accepted the materials, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the West of creating “panic” Friday.
“Do we have tanks on the streets?” Zelensky asked reporters during a news conference. “No. When you read media, you get the image that we have troops in the city, people fleeing. … That’s not the case.”
While Ukraine’s leader declined to rule out the possibility of conflict, he denied the repeated suggestion by the Biden administration that a Russian attack may be “imminent.”
“I’m the president of Ukraine and I’m based here and I think I know the details better here,” he said at one point.
The US and its allies have emphasized that any potential sanctions would not be placed on Russia until after an invasion. However, Zelensky said Friday he believes that would be too late.
“If there’s a full-scale war tomorrow, why do we need sanctions afterward?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s fair.”