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What Sanctions Against Russia Could Look Like


A Ukrainian serviceman moves through the ruins of an industrial compound on a frontline position outside Avdiivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 4, 2022.

Western nations have threatened sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine. While leaders have given few details about exactly what measures they plan to take or precisely what Russian actions would trigger sanctions, they have promised to make any new sanctions more punishing than previous efforts. Here is a look at what the United States and European countries might be considering.

Technology

The White House has said it is considering imposing export controls on Russia, which would restrict Russia's ability to obtain the integrated circuits necessary for a range of technologies including smartphones, televisions, aircraft avionics and machine tools. Such an action could include adding Russia to the most restrictive group of countries under export controls, which includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. The United States imposed similar technology sanctions during the Cold War to limit Russia's ability to make technological developments.

Banks

Sanctions already exist against some smaller Russian state-owned banks, imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Western countries could consider toughening the existing sanctions or expanding the list of financial institutions facing curbs, including adding some private Russian banks. Sanctions could also target the state-backed Russian Direct Investment Fund, which invests in leading Russian companies.

Natural gas

The recently completed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany has been considered for sanctions. The gas line is still awaiting final approval from Germany, and Berlin has come under pressure to deny its approval. Germany has indicated that it might consider not approving Nord Stream 2; however, Europe's energy dependence on Russia makes it difficult to take this route.

The U.S. and the European Union already have sanctions in place in Russia's energy sector, including those imposed on the state-owned gas company Gazprom. Future efforts could deepen those sanctions or increase the number of companies affected by them.

SWIFT

One of the toughest actions the United States and the EU could take against Russia is cutting Moscow out of the SWIFT financial system that is used by banks around the world. If such a move were made, Russia could not engage in most international financial transactions, including taking international profits from oil and gas production.

This action was considered but not taken when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Russia said at the time that being cut off from SWIFT would be equivalent to a declaration of war. Since then, Russia has tried to develop its own financial transfer system called SPFS, but that system has struggled to gain traction.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has expressed doubts about kicking Russia out of SWIFT, saying, "The toughest stick won't always ultimately be the most intelligent sword."

Dollar

Another possible strong financial measure against Russia would be blocking Russia's access to the U.S. dollar. Without access to the U.S. banking system, Russian companies would find it difficult to conduct routine transactions and purchases. The United States could impose this sanction alone, without approval from other countries, unlike the SWIFT option. U.S. President Joe Biden has indicated to reporters that the United States is studying this option.

Bonds

The United States has already banned U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian government bonds directly from state institutions. Biden took the action over accusations that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. Further sanctions on Russian bond markets could ban secondary market trading.

Individuals

Governments often target specific individuals for sanctions, imposing travel restrictions and barring them from holding overseas assets. Citing data from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, The Associated Press reports that 735 Russian individuals are still under U.S. sanctions over Russia's annexation of Crimea. The U.S. and British governments have threatened to sanction Moscow's elite if Russia invades Ukraine again. Some U.S. lawmakers want the Biden administration to consider sanctioning Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics reported to be the girlfriend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision-making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin's destabilizing behavior," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in late January.

Putin

Putin himself is also under consideration for targeted sanctions. U.S. lawmakers have proposed sanctions against the Russian president and Biden has said he would consider such measures. Moscow has said any sanctions against Putin would not hurt him personally but would be "politically destructive."

Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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