Biden signs executive order aimed at targeting banks that facilitate Russia’s war in Ukraine

By Isaac M December 22, 2023

President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order expanding US sanctions authority against Russia and aimed at further isolating Russia’s military and defence sector from the global economy.

The order will provide the Treasury Department with authority to issue so-called “secondary sanctions”, which will target banks and other financial institutions that facilitate the business of companies involved in the importing of technology required for the assembly of arms and munitions for Russia’s military. Previously, such secondary sanctions authority had been primarily used against companies working with corporate and other interests tied to Iran and North Korea, and has been credited with the effectiveness of isolating those countries from the US financial system.

Friday’s action could have a significant effect in the Biden administration’s efforts to cut off Russia’s military and private interests connected to it from the US dollar. It will, however, require the Treasury Department to strategically target those sanctions — and for them to be maintained under whichever administration takes the White House in 2025. Several candidates for the Republican nomination including most notably Vivek Ramaswamy have embraced a skepticism of the US’s strategic alliance with Ukraine and oppose sending further aid to the Ukrainian defence effort.

White House officials at the press secretary’s daily briefing as well as on a background call Thursday also expressed the urgency for Congress to pass legislation authorising further financial support for Ukraine, explaining that money was running out and that the US risked seeing the Ukrainian military’s gains against Russia lost in the months ahead as a result.

Republicans in the House and Senate are blocking further aid to Ukraine and Israel until their demands for the administration to cut a deal on border security and immigration are met; that exact deal has yet to materialise after weeks of negotiations in the Senate and lawmakers have now left Washington for the holiday season.

Though the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia’s economy remains up for debate, the White House insisted on Thursday that the Biden administration’s efforts to punish the Russian defence sector were irrefutably working. Officials pointed to the Russian military’s staggering loss of equipment in Ukraine amid their battle with the country’s battle-hardened defenders, and argued that Russian forces were having difficulty recouping those losses and equipping units as a result of US-led financial restrictions.

This week’s announcement followed an expansion of existing sanctions authority to more than 150 third-country private entities connected to the Russian arms trade earlier in December.

Mr Biden also met with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on 12 December at the White House and pledged that his administration “will not walk away from Ukraine, and neither will the American people”.


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