Russia on Tuesday announced sanctions on President Biden and several senior Democratic officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in the latest round of ongoing economic hostilities between Washington and Moscow.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the sanctions were the inevitable result of the “extremely Russophobic” actions taken by the Biden administration. The ministry said similar measures are expected in the future on other U.S. lawmakers. The United States has imposed sanctions on hundreds of Russian entities and individuals since Russia invaded Ukraine, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The sanctions on the American officials are expected to bar them from traveling to Russia and freeze any assets they hold there. But it’s unlikely many top Democratic officials will be affected by those measures. At the White House news briefing on Tuesday, Psaki mocked the Russian sanctions as ineffectual, while also saying the Kremlin misspelled Biden’s name.
“I’d first note that President Biden is a ‘junior,’ so they may have sanctioned his dad, may he rest in peace,” Psaki said. “None of us are planning tourist trips to Russia and none of us have bank accounts we won’t be able to access, so we will forge ahead.”
The probably ineffectual nature of the Russian sanctions underscores the massive advantage the United States has over Russia in economic and financial power. The U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency, and the United States has with its allies moved with stunning speed to cut off Russia from its international banking reserves. Meanwhile, the ruble has collapsed in value and Russia’s government could face a default on its payment obligations.
Russian financial elites are particularly vulnerable to American sanctions because the country’s billionaires have moved their money to overseas holdings. Russia’s billionaires have about as much financial wealth stashed in offshore foreign accounts as the entire Russian population has in Russia itself, according to a 2017 paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The same is not true of American financial elites.
Since the start of the war, the United States has imposed sanctions on more than 200 Russian people and entities, according to a tracker by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. In addition, it has frozen the country’s bank reserves, curbed its technology imports, and cut off its oil and gas exports to the United States, among other measures.
“The dollar is the world reserve currency, and the ruble has collapsed. America has a unique power to globally sanction people, because the world runs on dollars,” said Aaron Klein, a former Treasury official now at the Brookings Institution. “What is Russia going to do, stop me from buying rubles?”
Adam Smith, a sanctions expert who served in the Obama administration, pointed out that many U.S. officials will see being hit by Russian sanctions as a badge of honor. In 2015, after he was barred from traveling to Russia, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Politico that he “couldn’t be more proud.”
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