Putin's daughters targeted in new round of US economic sanctions on Russia

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's administration imposed sweeping new economic sanctions Wednesday on Russia that include targeting President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters in response to atrocities in Ukraine that the White House called war crimes.

Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, daughters of Putin and his ex-wife, Lyudmila Shkrebneva Putina, face sanctions that will cut them off from the U.S. financial system and freeze any assets they may hold in the USA.

The new round of sanctions, which bans U.S. investment in Russia and hits Russia's largest bank and financial institution, follows disturbing reports and images of civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha near the capital of Kyiv. The moves continue Biden's strategy of steadily ramping up sanctions as Russia's war in Ukraine escalates. 

"There's nothing less happening than major war crimes," Biden said Wednesday, describing scenes of bodies left in the streets of Bucha, including civilians executed with their hands tied behind their heads. 

“Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable. And together with our allies and our partners, we’re going to keep raising the economic costs and ratchet up the pain for Putin, and further increase Russia’s economic isolation," Biden said during his address to labor union members in Washington gathered for the North America’s Building Trades Unions Legislative Conference.

“Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable" for war crimes in Ukraine, President Joe Biden tells the North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU) conference in Washington on April 6.

The sanctions were made in coordination with the Group of Seven nations and European Union allies, which were likely to take similar sanctions.

U.S. authorities suspect many of Putin’s assets are hidden with family members. Vorontsova leads state-funded programs focused on genetics research that are personally overseen by Putin, and Tikhonova is a tech executive whose work supports the Russia defense industry. The sanctions also target the wife and daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

'The new Auschwitz': Mariupol mayor says more than 5,000 civilians have died in Russian siege. Live Ukraine updates.

Twenty-one members of the Russian Security Council and other Putin associates have been sanctioned, in addition to the 140 oligarchs and Kremlin officials – including Putin and Lavrov – targeted since Russia invaded Ukraine. Dmitry Medvedev, former president and prime minister of Russia, and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin are among the newly sanctioned elites.

"Think about the incredible amounts of money these oligarchs have stolen," Biden said, adding that they won't be able to keep their "$100 million yachts" and luxury homes "while children in Ukraine are being killed, displaced from their homes every single day."

Maria Vorontsova is one of two Putin daughters hit with U.S. sanctions in response to Russia's war in Ukraine. She is a leading researcher at the National Medical Research Center for Endocrinology of the Russian Health Ministry and member of the Presidium of the Russian Association for the Promotion of Science.

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The Biden administration is imposing sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, 42 of its subsidiaries and Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank, and six of its subsidiaries. The White House called the moves “the most severe financial sanctions” the United States can take on these entities. Biden banned the U.S. import of all Russian energy products last month.

The actions will freeze any of Sberbank's and Alfa Bank's assets touching the U.S. financial system and prohibit Americans from doing business with either. Sberbank holds nearly one-third of the overall Russian banking sector’s assets, and Alfa Bank is Russia’s fourth-largest financial institution.

Biden signed an executive order that will prohibit investment in Russia by U.S. citizens – regardless where they live – in a bid to further isolate Russia from the global economy. More than 600 multinational companies have removed business operations or investment out of Russia. 

Biden said the investment ban will ensure "new money can't come into Russia to replace what's left."

Other sanctions prohibit Russia from making debt payments with funds subject to U.S. jurisdiction, a move White House press secretary Jen Psaki said presents Putin with a difficult "choice" between draining Russia's limited funds or default. 

Psaki said the sanctions are designed to make it more difficult for Putin to fund the war in Ukraine, "and we're seeing the direct impacts of that already."

In coordination with the U.S. actions, the United Kingdom announced a full asset freeze against Sberbank and Credit Bank of Moscow, a ban on Russia investment and targeted investments on eight Russian oligarchs and Putin associates.

US indicts Russian oligarch for sanction violations

The actions come amid revelations into atrocities committed against Ukrainian citizens.

Vadym Boychenko, mayor of the encircled eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, said more than 5,000 civilians, including 210 children, have been killed during the monthlong Russian siege. He said Russian forces bombed hospitals, including one where 50 people burned to death, and destroyed more than 90% of the southern port city’s infrastructure.

"The world has not seen the scale of the tragedy in Mariupol since the existence of the Nazi concentration camps. Russia-occupation forces turned our entire city into a death camp," Boychenko said, according to the Ukrainian news agency Interfax. "This is the new Auschwitz and Majdanek."

Biden touted the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions on Russia, pointing to projections that Russia’s gross domestic product will shrink by “double-digits” this year. He said sanctions “wiped out the last 15 years of Russia’s economic gains” and cut off the country from importing critical technology such as semiconductors.

“We’re going to stifle Russia’s ability to grow its economy for years to come,” Biden said.

The Justice Department took separate actions Wednesday aimed at a top Russian oligarch, unsealing an indictment against Konstantinos Malofeyev for alleged sanction violations. The Treasury Department identified Malofeyev as one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea and for providing material support for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist region in Ukraine. 

“After being sanctioned by the United States, Malofeyev attempted to evade the sanctions by using co-conspirators to surreptitiously acquire and run media outlets across Europe,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a briefing.

Garland announced the seizure of millions of dollars from an account at a U.S. financial institution, which the indictment alleges constitutes proceeds traceable to Malofeyev’s sanction violations.

U.S. authorities disrupted a global botnet controlled by the Russian military intelligence agency – commonly known as the GRU – aimed at infecting Ukrainian networks, according to the Justice Department. 

Justice Department takes role in possible war crimes trial

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the cyber disruption disabled Russia’s intended actions against “thousands of devices” before they could be launched. Wray said the action “strikes a blow against Russian intelligence.”

In addition to the enforcement actions, Garland acknowledged for the first time that the Justice Department was assisting in the effort to examine possible war crimes in Ukraine. The attorney general said U.S. authorities met with counterparts in Europe to develop a plan to gather evidence.

This week, Biden called for a war crimes trial against Putin. The International Criminal Court is one possible venue, but the White House said the United States would work with allies to decide the mechanism.

Garland said the Justice Department has "a long history" of helping to hold accountable those who perpetuated war crimes, and he singled out the atrocities in Ukraine: "We have seen the dead bodies of civilians, some with bound hands, scattered in the streets. We have seen the mass graves. We have seen the bombed hospital, theater, and residential apartment buildings.

"The world sees what is happening in Ukraine. The Justice Department sees what is happening in Ukraine," he said.

Katerina Tikhonova is one of two Putin daughters targeted by U.S. sanctions. Tikhonova, deputy director at the mathematical research of complex systems at Moscow State University, speaks by video during a panel session on Day 3 of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in St. Petersburg, Russia, on  June 4, 2021.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison