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Rare move as US imposes sanctions on Putin

The White House says the United States will impose sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as Washington looks to ramp up pressure on Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The rare but not unprecedented US move to impose sanctions on a head of state would come just a day after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, assaulting by land, sea and air in the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Friday said the decision to target Putin, Lavrov and other officials was made after President Joe Biden had a phone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Earlier on Friday, EU states and Britain agreed to freeze any European assets of Putin and Lavrov, as Ukraine’s leader pleaded for faster and more forceful sanctions to punish Russia’s invasion of his country.

The imposition of sanctions against Putin and Lavrov reflect the West’s “absolute impotence” when it comes to foreign policy, RIA news agency cited a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman as saying on Friday.

The US has in the past imposed sanctions on heads of state, including on Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Putin urged Ukraine’s military to overthrow its political leaders and negotiate peace on Friday, as authorities in Kyiv called on citizens to help defend the capital from a Russian assault its mayor said had already begun.

The sanctions targeting Putin would be the latest punitive action from Washington over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The US on Thursday imposed sanctions on Russia’s two biggest banks, among others, and members of the elite.

It followed action on Wednesday that designated the company in charge of building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and Tuesday’s move, which also targeted Russian banks and elites.

Edward Fishman, an Atlantic Council fellow who worked on Russia sanctions at the State Department during the Obama administration, said that while the sanctions on Putin are largely symbolic, targeting the Russian leader was a reasonable step for the United States and its partners to take.

“It certainly sends a very strong message of solidarity with Ukrainians who are under fire right now,” Fishman said.

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