US prepared to sanction Russian elites close to Putin if Russia invades Ukraine

Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with members of Russia's national team ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia January 25, 2022. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

WASHINGTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - The United States and its allies have prepared a list of Russian elites in or near Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle to hit with economic sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Monday.

"The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin's destabilizing behavior," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States has developed specific sanctions packages for both Russian elites who meet the criteria and their family members, and these efforts are being pursued in coordination with U.S. allies and partners, the official said.

Targeting Russian oligarchs is only one part of a plan by the United States and its allies to punish Putin should he launch an invasion of Ukraine after massing tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine border. Russia denies that it plans to invade Ukraine.

President Joe Biden has not ruled out putting sanctions on Putin himself.

U.S. officials have already detailed other penalties that include sanctions on Russian financial institutions and export control measures that could attempt to choke off broad swaths of industrial and consumer technologies to Russia.

The official would not provide names of Russian figures who could be sanctioned.

"There is a broad list of individuals we can pull from," the official said, noting that some will be from a classified list of senior Russian political figures and oligarchs outlined in Section 241 of the "Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act" in a report sent to the U.S. Congress in 2018.

"We cannot disclose the contents of this list or name specific names given flight risks, but it provides ample targets and family networks involved in stashing their assets," the official said.

The official said many of the individuals are particularly vulnerable targets because of deepened financial ties with the West.

"Putin's cronies will no longer be able to use their spouses or other family members as proxies to evade sanctions. Sanctions would cut them off from the international financial system and ensure that they and their family members will no longer able to enjoy the perks of parking their money in the West and attending elite Western universities," the official added.

Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Sandra Maler

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