USA

Biden considers sanctions against Putin’s inner circle ahead of this week’s key call

They include new actions against members of Putin’s inner circle and on Russian energy producers, and one potential “nuclear option” — disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world.

The officials said final decisions hadn’t been made on whether and when to apply the new sanctions, and said the Biden administration is currently in talks with European partners — many of whom have closer economic relationships to Russia — in the hopes of coordinating action.

People familiar with the discussions said new economic sanctions could target a variety of sectors, including energy producers and Russian banks. The new sanctions could also go after Russia’s sovereign debt.

They are also likely to go after top Russian oligarchs, limiting their ability to travel and potentially cutting off access to American banking and credit card systems.

Officials have also been weighing disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system, upon which Russia remains heavily reliant, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. This is being considered a “nuclear” option. The European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution in the spring calling for such a move should Russia invade Ukraine, and the US has been discussing it with EU counterparts.

There is also serious discussion underway about denying Russian energy producers from debt markets in case of an invasion, per a senior administration official.

“We have put together a pretty damn aggressive package,” the official said, and have warned Russia that if it invades Ukraine the US and Europe together will impose the worst economic sanctions that have ever been imposed on a country, outside of Iran and North Korea.

But there are concerns that Russia may be retaliate against any move by the US or its allies, including weaponizing its energy production.

“The fear is Russia then tries to retaliate by holding back production,” a senior US official told CNN.

President Joe Biden referred to the possible actions on Friday, telling reporters he was “putting together what I believe to be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.” And Secretary of State Antony Blinken has referred to “high impact economic measures” under consideration to punish Russia. Biden and Putin are set to hold a video call on Tuesday.

New US intelligence findings estimate Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine in a matter of months as it amasses up to 175,000 troops along the border, a startling escalation that President Joe Biden has warned could lead to severe consequences.

The latest developments come after months of steady increases along the Russia-Ukraine frontier that have alarmed US and Western officials and led to tense conversations between American diplomats and their counterparts.

CNN reported Friday that Russian forces have capabilities in place along the Ukraine border to carry out a swift and immediate invasion, including erecting supply lines such as medical units and fuel that could sustain a drawn-out conflict, should Moscow choose to invade.

Officials said the current levels of equipment stationed in the area could supply front-line forces for seven to 10 days and other support units for as long as a month.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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