By Tom Ozimek
Washington on Wednesday announced a fresh round of what it called “devastating” sanctions against Moscow after allegations that Russian forces committed war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, with the new measures including banning all new investment in Russia.
The United States, the Group of Seven (G7) allies, and the European Union are readying a round of measures that the White House said in an April 6 statement “will continue to impose severe and immediate economic costs” on Russia for what it described as “atrocities in Ukraine, including in Bucha.”
Grisly images emerged over the weekend from Bucha, a town near Kyiv, showing mass graves and bodies of slain individuals, some with hands bound and others bearing marks of apparent torture.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of committing war crimes in Bucha, claims that Moscow has denied.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called the atrocity allegations a “monstrous forgery” meant to denigrate the Russian army and a “pretext to torpedo” the ongoing peace talks.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia hasn’t been negotiating in good faith, saying Kyiv has repeatedly asked for a ceasefire to give talks a chance “but the war continues,” he said, and that “Russia is not serious about peace.”
Calling Russia a “global financial pariah,” the White House said the new measures will prohibit Moscow from making payments on Russian sovereign debt with funds subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
Russia will “now need to choose between draining its available funds to make debt payments or default,” the White House said.
The new measures also include full blocking sanctions on critical major Russian state-owned enterprises, prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with these entities, and freezing their assets. The Treasury Department is on Thursday expected to announce details of these measures, which the White House said would erode Russia’s ability to fund the war in Ukraine.
The punitive measures on Russia will also involve full blocking sanctions on Sberbank, which is Russia’s biggest financial institution, as well as Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank.
Any assets of the two institutions that touch the U.S. financial system will be frozen and Americans will be prohibited from doing business with them.
Sberbank, a systemically important financial institution that holds nearly one-third of the Russian banking sector’s assets, downplayed the impact of the new measures.
“The sanctions will not have a significant impact on the bank’s operations and will not affect service to Russians as the system has already adapted to the previous restrictions,” Sberbank said in a statement.
Alfa Bank, too, seemed to take Washington’s new sanctions announcement in its stride.
“There have been 8,257 sanctions imposed against Russia. Previously we feared that, but now—working as usual,” Alfa Bank said in a statement.
The new sanctions will also include a prohibition of any new investment in Russia by U.S. persons, with the White House saying the measure “will ensure the enduring weakening of the Russian Federation’s global competitiveness.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that the sanctions against Russia were “dealing a heavy blow” to the global economy, hurting countries that buy goods like agricultural produce and fertilizer from Russia.
Experts have raised the alarm on surging food prices in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which is poised to hit the world’s poorest nations the hardest. The International Food Policy Research Institute said recently that the fallout from the war was sure to drive food prices higher and “erode food security for hundreds of millions of people.”
The European Union, meanwhile, is set to ban imports of Russian coal, though E.U. countries remain divided over restricting Russia’s gas and oil sectors, which are more critical to their economies.
“We are ready to move quickly with further coordinated, robust sanctions,” said Charles Michel, President of the European Council, at a European Parliament plenary session in Brussels on Wednesday.
“The new package includes a ban on coal imports, and I believe that measures on oil and even on gas will also be needed sooner or later,” he added.
Michel said the E.U. will block Russian ships from entering E.U. ports and impose a ban on Russian and Belarusian road transport.
He added that the E.U. will also impose a full transaction ban on more banks to “further weaken Russia’s financial system.”
Michel also expressed “outrage at crimes against humanity—against innocent civilians—in Bucha and in many other cities,” calling it “yet more proof that Russian brutality against the people of Ukraine has no limits.”
Russia’s embassy in the UK said that Ukrainian authorities and militarized formation have for years been “exterminating” civilians in the contested Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
It shared a graphic video purporting to show victims of the violence and claiming that mass graves are still being found in the area.