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Biden to sanction Putin, locking the Russian leader out of financial assets in the US

The penalties will target Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's financial assets in the U.S. and impose a travel ban on the Kremlin officials.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. will sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, cutting the Kremlin officials off from the U.S. financial system in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In a rare move of sanctioning a world leader, Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the penalties Friday afternoon after the European Union and United Kingdom announced similar sanctions barring Putin and the top Russian diplomat from accessing financial assets held in their territories.

The sanctions are the latest move to punish Russia's economy and high-level Kremlin officials in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Psaki said she "believes" the U.S. sanctions will ban Putin from visiting the United States, while the EU and UK sanctions do not level a travel ban on the Russian president. More details on the U.S. sanctions are expected Friday evening.

It's unknown whether this move will mark a blow to Putin or Lavrov's finances since the Russian leader's financial holdings and where they are located are shrouded in mystery, but they signal a strong condemnation of Putin and the Kremlin.

"The steps that we are doing in alignment and in coordination with Europeans just sends a clear message about the strength of the opposition to the actions by President Putin and the direction in his leadership of the Russian military," Psaki said.

Tung Yin, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School with a focus on national security and terrorism law, said the more countries that sanction an individual, the more effective the penalties become.

"If you can identify a certain bank account belonging to that targeted individual and it's within control of the sanctioning country, so us in this case, you could freeze those assets. And so, of course, this is why getting as many European and Asian allies to join in will magnify the effectiveness of the sanctions," Yin said.

To Yin, levying a travel ban on a head of state is intended to function mainly as a means of public embarrassment that, when combined with other sanctions, can further isolate and frustrate a leader like Putin.

Prior to Friday's announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called for sanctions on the Russian president.

"You still can stop this aggression. You have to act swiftly," Zelensky said Friday morning, asking for sanctions targeting Putin and urging the West to cut the Kremlin off from access to SWIFT, a messaging system that connects banks across the world.

Critics of sanctioning SWIFT have warned locking Russia out could shock the international banking system and encourage countries to pivot to block-chain systems that do not rely on the U.S. dollar, but world leaders including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are pushing for such a penalty.

Psaki said cutting Russia out of SWIFT is still on the table.

"SWIFT is a messaging service that connects 11,000 banks, and many would argue that there are ways that the Russian leadership could get around that over the course of time, but it certainly remains an option on the table," Psaki said.

The U.S. leveled sweeping sanctions on Thursday, targeting Russian banks, those in Putin's inner circle and imposing restrictions on Russian access to high-tech imports as a means of deterring military and industrial growth.

At the start of the week, the Biden administration approved sanctions on the company in charge of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which runs between Russia and Germany after Germany halted approval of the pipeline in the wake of the invasion.

Biden has repeatedly said U.S. troops will not be deployed to Ukraine, leaving sanctions as the primary means of punishing Putin and responding to his invasion of Ukraine.

"When you get down to the real side of things, Russia is a nuclear-armed state. And if we were to actually get involved in the warfare side of things on the side of Ukraine, basically it would be kind of a replay of the Korean War," Yin said. "And on top of that, nuclear and cyber warfare capabilities of each side could easily spiral completely out of control. So, I think that's why the idea of sanctions is viewed as a more targeted approach," Yin said.

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