EU and U.K. freeze Putin and Lavrov's assets
The European Union and United Kingdom have frozen the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as part of a new tranche of sanctions punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Why it matters: The moves reflect Moscow's new pariah status but are mostly symbolic, as it's unclear what assets Putin and Lavrov actually hold in the West after years of escalating sanctions against Russia.
- Putin in particular is believed to rely on his inner circle of Russian oligarchs to stash his vast wealth abroad.
- The EU sanctions will not include visa restrictions, a move intended to leave open the possibility for diplomatic talks at a neutral location in Europe.
What they're saying: "Let me flag that the only leaders in the world that are sanctioned by the European Union are Assad from Syria, Lukashenko from Belarus and now Putin from Russia," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday.
The big picture: After Russian forces moved into eastern Ukraine, the EU was uncharacteristically quick to impose an initial package of sanctions on Wednesday against many of Putin's top aides and Kremlin propagandists.
- The 27-member bloc has engaged in intensive discussions to ratchet up the pressure after Russia launched a full-scale invasion and is close to an agreement that would mirror U.S. restrictions on the largest Russian banks and other state-owned companies.
- The U.K. has also coordinated with the EU, U.S. and other G7 countries on sanctions regimes, but has been criticized for failing to crack down on Russian oligarchs who own property in London.
- The U.S. has not sanctioned either of the men, but President Biden said Thursday that the option remains on the table for the Russian president.
Between the lines: Despite the urgent pleas of Ukrainian officials, the EU has so far not agreed to disconnect Russia from SWIFT — which is akin to the central nervous system for international financial transactions.
- Germany, Italy and Hungary are among the top EU countries that have resisted this step, which many consider to be among the toughest sanctions on the table.
- Italy also successfully carved out an exception for luxury goods from the EU's package of Russia sanctions, The Telegraph first reported.