Joe Biden announced sanctions on several Russian oligarchs and government officials in the US administration’s most extensive step to tackle Vladimir Putin’s business allies and inner circle following the invasion of Ukraine.
The move on Thursday targeted individuals including Russian billionaire financier Alisher Usmanov, Nikolai Tokarev, the chief executive of energy company Transneft, and Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman.
Speaking before meeting with his cabinet at the White House on Thursday, Biden said the move was part of the “severe economic sanctions” being levied on Moscow, which were already having a “profound impact”.
“The goal was to maximise the impact on Putin and Russia and minimise the harm on us and our allies and friends around the world,” the US president said. “Our interest is in maintaining the strongest unified economic impact campaign on Putin in all history and I think we’re well on the way to doing that.”
Other individuals sanctioned by the US included Boris Rotenberg, Arkady Rotenberg, Sergei Chemezov, Igor Shuvalov, and Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The measures were extended to some of the family members of the Russian oligarchs.
The White House also announced the state department would implement visa restrictions on 19 Russian oligarchs and 47 of their relatives.
And the Treasury will impose sanctions on seven Russian entities that Washington believes are responsible for spreading “false narratives that advance Russian strategic objectives and falsely justify the Kremlin’s activities”.
Broader US sanctions on Russian oligarchs were expected after the EU published its own list of targeted individuals and began to seize some assets held by Russian oligarchs in Europe.
Biden had vowed to target Russian oligarchs in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night and set up a task force at the justice department to implement the sanctions.
On Thursday, he said the DoJ would be “going after the crimes of Russian oligarchs [who were] lining their pockets with the Russian people’s money while Ukrainian people are hiding in the subway”.
Andrew Adams, a federal prosecutor in New York who has handled cases involving Russian organised crime groups, will lead the “KleptoCapture” task force.
Earlier this week, the US imposed sanctions on Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of Russia’s most prominent sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
The Treasury said Usmanov’s Kremlin ties “enrich him and enable his luxurious lifestyle”, noting that he owns one of the world’s largest superyachts, worth between $600mn and $735mn, and a private Airbus 340 jet, registered in the Isle of Man, worth between $350mn and $500mn.
The White House said that Germany had seized the yacht, which is in the northern port of Hamburg. German officials have not confirmed the seizure.
Among those who have benefited from links to the Russian president are Rotenberg, who amassed his billions after Putin came to office, thanks to the award of state tenders for construction contracts won alongside younger brother Boris. Rotenberg is a childhood friend and judo partner of Putin.
Shuvalov, a former senior economic official in Putin’s cabinet, left Russian government in 2018 to run state development bank VEB, which the US sanctioned last week.
A former caterer turned warlord, Prigozhin has been sanctioned repeatedly for running a “troll farm” that meddled in the 2016 US election as well as his Wagner mercenary group’s alleged war crimes in Africa.
Chemezov, who served alongside Putin in the KGB in Dresden in the late 1980s, heads up Rostec, Russia’s enormous state defence and technology conglomerate.
According to the US, Tokarev also served with Putin in the KGB in East Germany, and had since built “a business and real estate empire extending throughout Russia and into Europe”.
The US also sanctioned his wife Galina Tokarev and his daughter Maiya Tokarev, who has real estate businesses in Russia and Croatia.
One of her Croatian companies owns “prime oceanfront real estate on a Croatian island that includes a villa built by the 19th century Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I”, according to the US.