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New sanctions target several of Russia's elite, including family members of Putin

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The international community is intensifying sanctions on Russia. That's because of widespread outrage over alleged war crimes by Russian forces. The U.S., along with the G-7 and European Union, are targeting large financial institutions and several more of Russia's elite, including family members of top officials like President Vladimir Putin.

NPR's international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has been following the details, and she joins us now. Hey, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: OK, another round of sanctions - what are the details about this one?

NORTHAM: Well, the U.S. and its allies hit two of Russia's largest financial institutions with blocking sanctions. So that will freeze any assets that touch the U.S. financial system and also prohibit Americans from conducting business with them. One of them, the Sberbank, holds about one-third of Russia's banking assets, so well over $500 billion.

Also, there are now full-blocking sanctions on several more Russian individuals, and that includes the wife and daughter of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who, himself, was already sanctioned, and two of President Putin's adult daughters from his first marriage. And Putin was also facing sanctions.

DETROW: Why go after his daughters? Is there maybe thinking here that they could have some sort of influence on his decision-making?

NORTHAM: That could be part of it. A senior administration official said today that the U.S. believes that Putin hides his wealth, his assets such as yachts and mansions, etc., with family members that could be in the U.S. financial system or other parts of the world. So this would be a way to chip away at his wealth. And it also just shows that there are lots of different types of sanctions that the U.S. and others can apply to Russians, and that's why they are doling them out incrementally for now.

DETROW: So there's an important caveat here. Just like previous rounds of sanctions that the U.S. has taken in other countries as well, none of these sanctions would apply to energy exports from Russia. That is such a big part of Russia's economy. Is there any movement at this point to sanction oil and gas, to stop imports from Russia to Europe?

NORTHAM: Well, the EU, the European Union, is looking at whether it should stop buying coal from Russia, and that could be decided by the end of this week. Coal is something that can easily be bought elsewhere, but it's a different picture for oil and gas. Europe relies heavily on Russian oil, and particularly gas, to heat its homes and run its businesses. And if it suddenly cuts off those imports, it could have a pretty dramatic effect on their own economies. But at the same time, though, you see these pictures coming out of Bucha and some of the other Kyiv suburbs and have to suspect that, you know, there's some real soul-searching that's probably going on in Europe right now.

DETROW: If that did happen, if there were sanctions on oil and gas, would that have any impact on Putin or on the overall war?

NORTHAM: Well, it's a lot of money, and it helps prop up the government. You know, the EU said that Europe is sending about $1 billion a day to Russia for oil and gas, and that could be going towards Russia's war effort. So removing that would probably deal a blow to financing the war as well as Russia's economy. And analysts believe that the economy has already shrunk, has been hit by these sanctions so far.

But there's a lot of debate. If you sanction oil and gas, it would really hit hard. But, you know, would that make Putin back down, you know, rethink the invasion of Ukraine, or could it instead make him more aggressive because, at that point, he would have nothing to lose?

DETROW: That's NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam. Thanks, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.