Biden targets oligarchs, seeks aid for Ukraine
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $10 billion to aid Ukraine and announced new sanctions on more than a dozen Russian oligarchs and their families, as pressure continued to build on Capitol Hill for an even tougher response to Moscow a week after it invaded its neighbor, particularly a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas.
The White House imposed sanctions on 19 wealthy Russian individuals and 47 of their family members and close associates, including President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, and Alisher Usmanov, one of the wealthiest men in Russia.
Economic pressure: Unwilling to engage Russia’s military directly, the United States and Europe have also increased their shipments of weapons and defense materiel to Ukraine in recent days, as live television coverage of Russia’s unprovoked aggression and social media posts from Ukraine have galvanized the West. Meanwhile, both the U.S. and European leaders continue to ratchet up the economic pressure on the elites in Putin’s inner circle in an effort to bring an end to his merciless assault on Ukraine.
“We want (Putin) to feel the squeeze, we want the people around him to feel the squeeze,” Psaki said. “Making them a priority and a focus of our individual sanctions is something the president has been focused on.”
The U.S. restrictions will prohibit those sanctioned from traveling to the U.S.; and by targeting the elites’ family members, the administration is aiming to prevent them from easily transferring assets to spouses or children, a loophole often used in similar situations to evade sanctions.
The latest move came amid new indications from Putin that he has no intention of halting the war until he has overtaken all of Ukraine. And it marked the latest effort by Washington to force him to recalculate his strategy through a devastating economic pressure campaign.
Aid to Ukraine: While squeezing Russia, the White House aims to boost Ukraine, pressing Congress for additional humanitarian and defense funds to help Ukraine hold off the Russian aggressors.
The Biden administration has requested $10 billion for Ukraine, money that will be used to address the mounting humanitarian crisis as well as assist its defense against Russia. Of that, $4.8 billion would go to the Pentagon and $5 billion to the State Department, with the remainder going to the departments of Treasury, Commerce, Justice and Energy.
The funding request is designated as “emergency,” meaning it would come above and beyond regular agency levels. That crucial distinction should resolve a dispute over whether to cut Pentagon funds to pay for the Ukraine response and help garner Republican support.
The funds are in addition to the $650 million in security aid and $52 million in humanitarian aid the U.S. already has committed to Ukraine over the last year as well as a previous $1 billion sovereign loan guarantee. The request is likely to get bipartisan support.
The acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, laid out the need for the supplemental funding in a Thursday blog post. The request for $10 billion for Ukraine as well as $22.5 billion for pay for COVID-related testing, treatments, vaccines and research would be additions to a planned budget agreement that Congress is trying to finish before a March 11 deadline.
— The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
PSERS set to divest Russian assets
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s biggest public pension system will begin to sell off its investments in Russia and Belarus, after its board unanimously voted to do so Thursday in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The $72.5 billion Public School Employees’ Retirement System is one of the nation’s biggest public pension funds. The vote targets what it says is almost $300 million directly invested in Russia and Belarus, which is less than one-half of 1% of the fund’s total assets. Belarus has been a key ally of Russia in its attack on Ukraine.
The motion has a caveat: that divesting must be consistent with the board’s prudent fiduciary duty. But the motion also decreed that the system will make no future investments in Russia or Belarus until it votes to change that policy.
Governors and lawmakers in numerous U.S. states have been taking actions to pull state investments from Russian companies, while encouraging private entities to do the same.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have begun drafting legislation to require the state Treasury Department and the state’s three public pension funds to divest Russia-related holdings.
The Treasury Department said it sold off as much of its
$2.9 million it had invested in Russian companies as it could.
The State Employees’ Retirement System, which reported almost $36 billion in assets to start 2021, said the fund’s exposure to Russia-related investments amounts to a fraction of 1%. Its board planned to discuss the matter Friday.