US hits Russia with sweeping sanctions, including ones that target Putin’s daughters; Dutch seize 14 Russian yachts: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

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The Biden administration will impose sweeping new sanctions on Russia that include targeting Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters in response to atrocities in Ukraine that the White House has called war crimes, the White House said Wednesday.

Maria Putina and Katerina Tikhonova, two daughters of the Russian leader and his ex-wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva Putina, face full blocking sanctions that will cut them off from the U.S. financial system and freeze any assets that may hold in the U.S. The U.S. believes many of Putin’s assets are hidden with family members.

Sanctions also target Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his wife and daughter. The new wave of sanctions on Russian elites add to the 140 other oligarchs and Kremlin officials already hit with sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Other new measures include full blocking sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa Bank  – moves that the official called “the most severe financial sanctions” the U.S. can take on Russia’s largest financial entities. 

The Biden administration will impose a ban on U.S. investment in Russia that will come from an executive order signed by President Joe Biden.

The new sanctions have been made in coordination with the Group of Seven nations and European Union allies, which are expected to take similar sanctions, and follows disturbing reports and images of civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha near the capital of Kyiv.

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Latest developments

►A North Dakota farmer jailed in Ukraine since November has been moved from Kyiv to Lviv, Sen. John Hoeven said. Kurt Groszhan, 50, is charged with plotting to assassinate Ukraine’s then-agriculture minister, Roman Leschenko. The two had gone into business together after Groszhan moved to Ukraine in 2017.

► Ukraine’s military said it has retaken the settlements of Dobryanka, Novovoznesenske, and Trudolyubivka in the Kherson region just north of Crimea.

► The Russian military has killed more than 320 civilians in Bucha, Mayor Anatolii Fedoruk said Wednesday.

► $100 million worth of Javelin anti-tank missiles will be sent to Ukraine to meet an urgent need, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. The transfer brings the total of U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to $2.4 billion since President Joe Biden took office last January.

► Greece is expelling 12 Russian diplomats. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Western countries have expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats.

Dutch put 14 Russian yachts under ‘special supervision’

Dutch customs officials placed 14 yachts at five shipyards under “special supervision” on Wednesday because they are being built or repaired for wealthy Russians.

Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said 12 yachts are under construction and two are undergoing maintenance. The boats will not be allowed to leave the country because of the export ban and sanctions imposed on hundreds of wealthy supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Netherlands has been criticized for its slow start to enforcing sanctions.

Russian owners made up 9% of all superyacht owners in 2021, making Russia the second largest ownership country behind the United States, according to Superyacht Times.

The U.S. government on Monday seized a 254-foot yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to Putin. Other countries also have seized the luxury boats.

China calls for probe of Bucha slayings, does not condemn Moscow

The reports and images of civilian deaths in Bucha are “deeply disturbing” and should be thoroughly investigated, China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said Wednesday Thursday. But Zhang placed no blame on Russia and urged all sides to “exercise restraint and avoid unfounded accusations” until more details are known. China supports all measures conducive to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,  Zhang said. 

China has been walking a diplomatic tightrope, declining to condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and suggesting sanctions will only accelerate the crisis and create global economic problems. China has chastised the U.S. and NATO, saying they provoked the war with NATO’s expansion and fueled it by arming Ukraine.

UN to vote on Russia’s spot in Human Rights Council

The United Nations will vote Friday on whether Russia should be removed from the Human Rights Council. The United States and United Kingdom called for Russia’s removal from the council in recent days as evidence of atrocities by the Russian military emerge. To remove Russia from the council, at least two-thirds of the UN General Assembly would need to vote for the ouster.

“Given the growing mountain of evidence, Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose is to promote respect for human rights,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at a Security Council meeting Tuesday. “Not only is it the height of hypocrisy – it is dangerous.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia denied that Russian troops were committing war crimes, blaming Ukrainians for the deaths and defending the invasion by claiming the “Nazi malignant tumor that is devouring Ukraine would have eventually begun to devour Russia.”

Ella Lee

Pope Francis kisses Ukrainian flag, pleads for end to war

Pope Francis kissed the Ukrainian flag and renewed his appeal Wednesday for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. During his weekly audience in the Vatican’s auditorium, several Ukrainian children – now refugees in Italy – joined him on the stage. The pope furled the faded, stained flag and held it up, saying the flag “came from war, from that martyred city of Bucha.”  He condemned “the massacre” in that city outside Kyiv.

“Ever more horrendous cruelties, even against civilians, women and helpless children,” the pope said. “They are victims whose innocent blood cries out to heaven and implores.”

White House to announce more sanctions on Russia

The Biden administration will announce a ban on new investment in Russia and other new sanctions Wednesday in response to atrocities such as recent revelations of barbaric acts in the town of Bucha. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the measures are designed to “degrade key instruments of Russian state power, impose acute and immediate economic harm on Russia and hold accountable the Russian kleptocracy that funds and supports Putin’s war.”

The penalties, made in coordination with G-7 and European Union allies, also involve increased sanctions on financial institutions and state-owned enterprises and also on Russian government officials and their family members.

As a result of sanctions on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s economy is forecast to contract as much as 15% or more in 2022, according to the Institute for International Finance.

Contributing: The Associated Press