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European Sanctions Target Putin’s Inner Circle

BRUSSELS — Western leaders sought to deter a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine by punishing prominent members of President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle on Wednesday, imposing new sanctions and promising worse penalties should the Kremlin begin a new military offensive.

The European Union revealed new sanctions on Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu; Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino; and high-profile Russians from the media world. The White House announced another round of sanctions as well, on the company building the gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany.

Among those sanctioned by the European Union are, from top left: Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister; Maria Zakharova, the director of the foreign ministry’s Information and Press Department; Margarita Simonyan, who leads the television network RT; and Anton Vaino, President Vladimir V. Putin’s chief of staff.

European officials said the sanctions were a first step toward punishing those involved in the recognition of the so-called republics of Donetsk and Luhansk on Monday, which the bloc regards as a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, civilian and military leaders braced for all-out war as military reservists were called up, officials prepared to declare a 30-day state of emergency and the government urged Ukrainian citizens in Russia to leave the country. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would evacuate diplomats from Ukraine and Mr. Putin, in a video speech released on Wednesday, remained defiant of Western measures, saying Russia’s interests were “unconditional.”

A threat of a larger Russian invasion of Ukraine, beyond the separatist controlled areas in the country’s east, still looms, American officials said Wednesday.

While the U.S. has not observed Russian military assets in parts of Ukraine outside of the separatist-controlled area and the timing of any further action is not clear to American intelligence, the array of forces in Belarus and the Ukraine border means a full-scale invasion in the coming days remains a real possibility, officials said.

On Tuesday, the E.U., Britain and the United States imposed an initial round of economic sanctions on Russia for recognizing the separatist regions, including penalties on Russian lawmakers and Germany’s halt on certifying the gas pipeline, an $11 billion project called Nord Stream 2, for the indefinite future.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden announced sanctions on the Russian company building the pipeline and its corporate officers.

The U.S. sanctions unveiled a day earlier included penalties against three sons of senior officials close to Mr. Putin and two state-owned banks, seeking to wall them off from most international commerce, as well as restrictions on Russia’s ability to raise revenue by issuing sovereign debt.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman spoke with top European diplomats on Wednesday to coordinate on further economic sanctions, the State Department said.

Mr. Blinken spoke with Liz Truss, the British foreign minister, to discuss cooperation on “executing swift and severe economic measures against Russia,” the State Department said in a text summary of their call. Ms. Sherman took part in at least three calls by midday — one with counterparts from France, Germany, Italy and Britain, another with the foreign minister of Liechtenstein, and a third with the deputy secretary general of NATO and three officials from other European multinational security organizations.

It was unclear how much the measures would discourage Mr. Putin and his advisers, if at all. Russia has deployed as many as 190,000 troops along Ukraine’s border and its separatist regions, according to American and Ukrainian officials, who say the forces appear poised to attack the country from the north, east and south.

And Mr. Putin has bolstered Russia’s ability to withstand sanctions in recent years, reducing its use of dollars, stockpiling currency reserves and reorienting trade away from Western imports.

Still, Western officials hoped the measures would strike at the lifestyles of Russia’s highest officials. Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, wrote a caustic tweet on Tuesday about how the sanctions would affect some Russian elites. “No more: Shopping in Milano Partying in SaintTropez Diamonds in Antwerp,” he wrote. “This is a first step.” The tweet was later deleted.

Two prominent individuals on the list were Maria Zakharova, the director of the foreign ministry’s Information and Press Department, who is the ministry’s spokesperson; and Margarita Simonyan, who leads the television network RT.

The top Russian military leadership and senior executives at the state-owned VTB Bank, which itself was not listed, featured in the sanctions package, as did a number of other media personalities that the European Union regards as “propagandists.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin — a Russian businessman with close links to Mr. Putin who owns, among other things, the mercenary group Wagner — was included on the E.U. sanctions list alongside several members of his family.

The sanctions mean that the individuals will be barred from traveling to the European Union and their assets will be frozen — although the asset freezes could be tricky to implement, given the willingness of European banking systems to conceal Russian wealth in complex ownership structures.

The sanctions package, which runs several hundred pages long, also includes bans on the import of dozens of goods and services, as well as an effective ban on Russia’s raising funds in European capital markets through short- and long-term bonds.

The United States and its allies are still seeking a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, the State Department said in a summary of its calls.

But, it added, they are also in accord that “Russia’s flagrant disregard for international law demands a severe response from the international community and agreed to coordinate closely on next steps, including massive additional economic sanctions, should Russia continue to escalate its aggression against Ukraine.”

Julian Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

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