Biden targets Belarus, Russian defense sector with new restrictions

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP

The Biden administration is restricting exports of key technologies to Belarus in response to its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and leveling new sanctions on Russia’s defense sector, the White House announced Wednesday. 

The Commerce Department is also restricting exports of oil and gas extraction equipment to Russia, which the White House said would degrade Russia’s refining capacity over time without reducing the global supply of energy.  

The U.S. has avoided imposing restrictions on Russia’s energy sector due to European reliance on Russian oil and gas and a fear additional shocks to the oil market could further raise gas prices domestically.  

The new steps came as Russia’s military attack on Ukraine stretched into its seventh day and as Moscow faces accusations of war crimes due to its strikes on civilian areas.  

The U.S. and European allies have worked in concert to impose hefty financial costs on Russia over its large-scale invasion of Ukraine.   

“As a result of our historic, multilateral coordination, Russia has become a global economic and financial pariah,” the White House said in a fact sheet laying out the new actions.   

The White House said the Commerce Department would extend export controls placed on Russia last week to Belarus, which has served as a staging ground for Russian troops entering Ukraine.  

The export controls are designed to restrict imports of sensitive U.S. technologies like semiconductors, lasers, and sensors, thereby degrading the strategic edge of both countries.   

The Commerce Department said that its Bureau of Industry and Security would block Belarus from importing sensitive U.S. technology that supports its defense, aerospace and maritime industries.  

“Belarus’s choice to enable Russia’s horrific assault on the people of Ukraine has rightly drawn international condemnation. Today’s action will significantly impair Belarus’s ability to abet Russia’s unjustifiable aggression,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler said in a statement.  

Kendler said the export controls “demonstrate the power of U.S. technological and economic leadership in furthering our national security.” 

The European Union similarly approved new sanctions on Belarus on Wednesday. 

The White House said the State Department would impose full blocking sanctions on 22 Russian companies that produce defense equipment like combat aircraft, missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles.   

Additionally, the White House said Commerce would update its entity list to include entities supporting or contributing to the Russian and Belarusian militaries.  

The measures are the latest in a series of penalties the U.S. has levied against Russia in coordination with European nations. The U.S. and Europe have also sanctioned Russian banks and elites, including Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, cut off Russia’s foreign currency reserves and blocked certain Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system.  

During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Biden announced plans to ban Russian aircraft from U.S. airspace, joining the European Union and Canada in doing so.  

Biden told reporters earlier Wednesday that a U.S. ban on oil imports from Russia was not off the table, though the White House has indicated to date that the Biden administration would look to avoid such restrictions to prevent a surge in energy prices in Europe and domestically.  

“We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One before the new penalties were announced.  

Updated at 2:41 p.m.

Tags Belarus export controls Karine Jean-Pierre Russia sanctions Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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