US Sanctions Would Include Action Against Moscow Elites If Russia Invades Ukraine: White House

By Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino covers the White House.
January 31, 2022Updated: January 31, 2022

The proposed U.S. response in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine includes sanctions on Russian elites and their family members, according to the White House.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday the United States is considering sanctions packages against Russian inner circle members who play a role in government decision making or are, “at a minimum, complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior.”

“Many of these individuals are particularly vulnerable targets, because of their deepened financial ties with the West, meaning they would be hurt by sanctions that are tying them to Western financial systems,” Psaki said.

The United States and other countries used this strategy to sanction Russian elites in 2014 when the Kremlin annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Psaki noted Monday that sanctions against individuals is only one part of what is currently being considered in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying sanctions packages would “hit Russia from all angles” and include major parts of the financial system.

Over the weekend, at least two U.S. senators said the Senate is close to reaching a deal on legislation that would preemptively sanction Russia over its actions on Ukraine, whether Moscow moves to invade or not.

“We certainly are encouraged by the fact that there’s bipartisan discussions on how to hold Russia accountable, how to have a deterrent impact,” said Psaki adding that the White House is in these conversations with Congress and looks forward to continuing.

Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine in recent weeks, as well as in Russia-annexed Crimea and Belarus. The Russian troop count, along with heavy artillery and anti-aircraft weaponry, in these locations has increased as recently as this past weekend, U.S. Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby said Monday.

At a news conference in Kyiv Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Western media and leaders to tone down rhetoric suggesting an imminent Russian invasion, saying, “We don’t need this panic.”

Psaki responded Monday, saying the Biden administration feels it’s important to be “open and candid” about the threat from Russia.

“I can’t speak to the motivation or the reasoning for the comments of Ukrainian leadership, I can only speak to what our efforts are here,” said Psaki.

U.S. officials have been saying for more than a week that Russia could invade “at any time.” They’ve also accused the Kremlin of spreading misinformation meant to destabilize Ukraine, including attempts to create a pretext for invasion through the use of false flags.

Russia has repeatedly denied it is planning an invasion. At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, requested by Washington, Russia’s U.N. ambassador said the West’s assertion that it had amassed 100,000 troops near Ukraine had not been confirmed by the U.N. and there was no proof Russia was planning military action.

He said U.S. talk of war was “provocative,” that Russia frequently deployed troops in its own territory, and that Ukraine’s crisis was a domestic issue.

Russia also demanded that NATO promise to not allow Ukraine to join the alliance, to halt the deployment of NATO weapons near Russia’s borders, and to roll back its forces from Eastern Europe. NATO and the United States have rejected those demands.

Reuters contributed to this report.