Russia-Ukraine war: US targets Putin’s daughters and banks in new sanctions

Two of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughters now face US sanctions after being accused of “hiding” their father’s immense wealth.

The new move follows the gruesome scenes in Bucha, north of Kyiv, where locals were executed and war crimes are alleged to have been committed.

The wife and daughter of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov are also on the new list, as is former president Dmitry Medvedev.

The White House also declared “full blocking” sanctions on Russia’s largest public and private financial institutions, Sberbank and Alfa Bank, and said all new US investment in Russia was now prohibited.

The sanctions on Sberbank are notable as it is Russia’s largest bank, with one-third of the country’s entire banking assets

“Today we’re dramatically escalating the financial shock by imposing full blocking sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and its largest private bank, Alfa Bank,” a senior administration official told reporters, CNN reported.

Daughters sanctioned

Putin’s adult daughters Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova will face sanctions for the first time.

The White House believes they are holding funds for their wealthy father.

“We have reason to believe that Putin and many of his cronies and the oligarchs hide their wealth, hide their assets, with family members that have placed their assets and their wealth in the US financial system, but also many other parts of the world,” the US Government official told CNN.

“That’s why the co-ordination, the co-ordinated efforts to freeze their assets and seize their physical luxury goods – their cars, their yachts, their homes – that’s why it’s so important that we act together.”

Putin has two adult daughters from his first marriage to former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva, which ended in 2013.

Putin's 'secret daughter'

The eldest, Maria, is believed to have been born in Leningrad (now called St Petersburg) in 1985, with sister Katerina arriving the following year while the family was living in Germany.

However, Putin has never mentioned their names publicly, and rarely comments on his family life at all.

But while Katerina has given media interviews in the past — and made headlines for her apparent passion for the quirky sport of acrobatic rock ‘n’ roll — Maria’s life has long been kept under wraps.

However, the blonde 36-year-old, who has been dubbed Putin’s “secret daughter” by the press, dropped some surprising clues about herself during an interview with state-owned TV channel Russia 1 in 2019.

During the interview, it was revealed she is a co-owner and top executive at Nomeko, a new, $970 million medical firm focused on cancer research.

Located near St Petersburg, Nomeko is said to be the biggest private investment project in healthcare in the country.

According to the BBC, Maria reportedly has a 20 per cent stake along with four other owners.

It is designed to hold 20,000 patients and will be able to perform 10,000 operations annually.

The Sun previously reported Maria — apparently nicknamed Masha — lives in a luxury penthouse in the Russian capital of Moscow, near the American embassy.

She is believed to be multilingual, and fluent in English, Dutch, Russian and French and is a children’s endocrinologist and research assistant.

She graduated with a medical degree from the Faculty of Fundamental Medicine at Moscow State University in 2011, according to the Daily Mail, and completed an internship at the Institute of Paediatric Endocrinology at the FSBI Endocrinological Research Centre — part of the Ministry of Health — in 2014.

Maria later completed a PhD with postgraduate research into dwarfism.

Earlier this year, it was reported that her marriage to wealthy Dutch businessman Jorrit Faassen – with whom she shares at least one child – had collapsed.

In the wake of her father’s invasion of Ukraine, exiled Russian investigative journalist Sergey Kanev said that Putin “did a rotten job for his elder daughter” by triggering massive Western sanctions.

“She has a big share in the mega-project for the construction of a super modern medical centre near St Petersburg,” he claimed recently.

“The plans were to attract patients from Europe and rich sheiks from the Persian Gulf countries.

“And now, after the attack on Ukraine, what kind of Europeans and sheiks will come?”

Katerina's rock 'n' roll passion

Meanwhile, just like her older sister, Katerina Tikhonova also spent most of her life out of the public eye — until a few years ago.

She was first identified by Reuters in 2015, as an active participant in a sport known as “acrobatic rock’n’roll” — a mix of gymnastics and dance.

Tikhonova, 35, who allegedly uses her maternal grandmother’s last name in a bid to remain anonymous, was also reported as heading a massive expansion of Moscow State University in 2015.

She married Russian billionaire Kirill Shamalov in 2013, although the pair have allegedly since split, and in 2018 Ms Tikhonova made her television debut on Russia 1.

Biden says sanctions will hurt for years to come

US President Joe Biden said the new sanctions would cramp Russia’s economy for years to come.

The UK quickly followed suit, and more pain was coming from the European Union as the West tightens the economic screws on Vladimir Putin.

The latest sanctions underscore the economic pain that Russia faces, as evidence that its troops killed Ukrainian civilians leads to ever-harsher penalties by the US and its Western allies that erode Putin’s ability to fight. Biden stressed that the economic consequences could outlast the war.

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

While rounds of increased sanctions have not forced Putin out of the war, they have put Russia in increasingly desperate economic circumstances as Ukrainian forces withstand his barrages. Key to the effectiveness of the sanctions has been the unity between the US and European nations. And the atrocities revealed in Ukraine have intensified pressure on Germany and other countries to go further and join the US and Lithuania in blocking all Russian energy exports.

The UK piled on with asset freezes against two major banks, a ban on British investment in Russia, and a pledge to end dependency on Russian coal and oil by the end of the year.

The European Union was also expected to soon take additional steps, including a ban on new investment in Russia and an embargo on coal, after the recent evidence of atrocities emerging in the wake of the retreat by Russian forces from the town of Bucha.

The US acted against two of Russia’s largest banks, Sberbank and Alfa-Bank, prohibiting assets from going through the US financial system and barring Americans from doing business with those two institutions.

In addition to sanctions aimed at Putin’s adult daughters, Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova, the US is targeting Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin; the wife and children of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; and members of Russia’s Security Council, including Dmitry Medvedev, a former president, and prime minister.

The penalties cut off all of Putin’s close family members from the US financial system and froze any assets they hold in the United States.

Biden was expected to sign an executive order that would ban new investment in Russia by Americans no matter where they are living. The US Treasury Department was preparing more sanctions against Russian state-owned enterprises, according to the White House.

Britain announced asset freezes targeting Sberbank and the Credit Bank of Moscow and designated eight Russian oligarchs whom it says Putin “uses to prop up his war economy”.

“Together with our allies, we are showing the Russian elite that they cannot wash their hands of the atrocities committed on Putin’s orders,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

Britain had already announced a plan to phase out Russian oil, which accounts for 8 per cent of the UK supply. Russia is the top supplier of imported coal to the UK, though British demand for the polluting fuel has plummeted in the past decade.

Britain has not ended imports of Russian natural gas, which accounts for 4 per cent of its supply, saying only that it will do so “as soon as possible”.

Videos and images of bodies in the streets of Bucha after it was recaptured from Russian forces have unleashed a wave of indignation among Western allies, who have drawn up new sanctions as a response.

The European Commission’s proposed ban on coal imports would be the first EU sanctions targeting Russia’s lucrative energy industry over its war in Ukraine.

Read more: Europe stained by Bucha massacre in Ukraine-Russia conflict

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said energy was key to Putin’s war coffers. And because the war has pushed prices higher, Russia has benefitted from being able to sell its natural gas and oil to the rest of the world.

“A billion euros is what we pay Putin every day for the energy he provides us since the beginning of the war. We have given him 35 billion euros. Compare that to the one billion that we have given to Ukraine in arms and weapons,” Borrell said.

The steady intensifying in sanctions is less a sign of their shortcomings than the building pressure against Russia as it seeks foreign investment and basic goods, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters. “We need to have patience and perspective when it comes to the impacts on Russia of this unprecedented and crippling sanctions regime,” Deese said.

Deese noted that Russian inflation is running at 2 per cent weekly, which would compound to annual inflation above 200 per cent annually. He noted that the Biden administration expects Russian prices will not ultimately rise more than 200 per cent this year.

While the White House has said Russia should not attend the G-20 meeting in Indonesia this November, he noted that it may drop out of the organisation anyway because its economy has shrunk in size so dramatically.

After several European countries announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats, the European Commission proposed a fifth package of sanctions including a ban on coal imports that could be adopted once unanimously approved by the 27-nation bloc’s ambassadors.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the coal ban is worth 4 billion euros (NZ$6.3 billion) per year and that the EU has already started working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports.

She didn’t mention natural gas, with consensus among the 27 EU countries on targeting the fuel used to generate electricity and heat homes difficult to secure amid opposition from gas-dependent members like Germany, the bloc’s largest economy.

But European Council President Charles Michel said the bloc should keep up the pressure on the Kremlin, suggesting that an embargo on gas imports should also be required at some point in the future.

“The new package includes a ban on coal imports,” Michel said. “I think that measures on oil, and even gas, will also be needed, sooner or later.”

– AP

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