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Nations set new sanctions against Russia after civilian atrocities in Ukraine

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The United States is putting additional sanctions on Russia, including the children of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This latest move follows revelations of deadly atrocities against civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. NPR's Asma Khalid is covering the story and joins us now. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So why are these added sanctions now?

KHALID: You know, you mentioned Bucha, and this comes after just the gruesome reports that many of us saw in the past couple of days. The president himself described the situation earlier this week as a war crime, and he called for a trial to take place against Vladimir Putin. The Biden administration has viewed sanctions, I will say, you know, as a tool that they can escalate or de-escalate to put pressure on the Russian government as needed. And they point to expectations that inflation could reach 20%. So they feel like this is, you know, hurting the Russian economy. But the thing is, you know, to date, sanctions, even as done today in coordination with the European Union and G-7 allies, have not actually stopped the war or the killing. And yesterday, Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, spoke to the U.N. Security Council, showing them images of dead bodies and challenging them all to do more.

FADEL: So what exactly are the new sanctions?

KHALID: Well, President Biden will be signing an executive order banning any new investment by Americans in Russia. But what I found most interesting in the package that the U.S. government rolled out today is that Putin's two adult daughters will be sanctioned, as well as members of Sergey Lavrov's family. He's Russia's foreign minister. There are also going to be additional sanctions on Russia's largest financial institution, Sberbank, and its largest private bank, Alfa-Bank. These are full-blocking sanctions that affect any assets that touch the U.S. financial system, no matter what currency that they're in. Russia will also be prohibited from making any debt payments with funds under U.S. jurisdiction, which could force Russia into default.

In total, a senior administration official told reporters this morning that they've now blocked about two-thirds of Russia's banking system. But there is still, however, a carveout in all of this for energy. And I should note, you know, there has been a lot of pressure, especially on European powers that rely on Russian energy, to cut off Russian oil, which is a major economic lifeline for Putin in the face of, you know, some of these atrocities we've seen. But to date, the Europeans have not done that.

FADEL: OK. So if these new sanctions are not going to stop the bloodshed, which are continuing - which is continuing in other parts of Ukraine, what is the Biden administration's goal here with this economic pain?

KHALID: You know, Leila, I think that is a really important question. Before the war began, officials within the U.S. - Biden administration suggested that sanctions would be a deterrent. But as the violence has dragged on, the tone has changed. You know, today even, a senior administration official told reporters, when we asked about sanctions being effective at stopping the war, that sanctions alone, he said, are never a stand-alone solution. Just this week, the U.S. announced an additional $100 million in defense aid to Ukraine.

But I will say there is still, I think, a very interesting question about whether the economic pain ordinary Russians will feel in the long run as a result of these sanctions might have unintended, detrimental consequences. On a briefing call with reporters this morning, the White House basically didn't have a clear answer to this question. They insist that sanctions can be turned up, turned down depending on Putin's behavior. But officials say that the sanctions currently in place are projected to wipe out the last 15 years of economic gains in Russia. So there will undoubtedly be pain that ordinary Russians are feeling that will be impossible to revert instantaneously whenever this war ends and whenever sanctions possibly come to an end.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.