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The sanctions against Russia went from toothless to devastating overnight as its economy began collapsing. Here’s a timeline

February 28, 2022, 11:00 PM UTC

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week prompted major economic sanctions by Western countries that are already causing a serious disruption to Russia’s economy and its citizens. 

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week that he would recognize the independence of the separatist republics of ​​Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, President Joe Biden imposed new sanctions beyond what the U.S. had already leveled against Russia in 2014 after it had annexed the former Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula. 

On Feb. 21, Biden issued an executive order that placed severe restrictions on trade with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The next day, he announced additional sanctions against two large Russian banks, VEB and Russian military bank PSB. Biden also said the U.S. would prohibit the secondary market for Russian bonds issued after March 1, which he said would block the country from raising money from the West. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, facing pressure from the U.S. and other world leaders, said on Feb. 22 that Germany would halt certification of the Nord stream 2 Baltic sea pipeline, which would double the flow of Russian gas to Germany.

Meanwhile, U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined the U.S. with what he called a “first barrage” of sanctions targeting five Russian banks and three billionaire members of Putin’s inner circle. The European Union imposed sanctions on 351 members of the Russian legislature’s lower house that voted to recognize the independence of the two Ukrainian separatist regions.

On Feb. 24, after Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine, Biden tightened the screws further by blocking tech exports to Russia to limit its military and aerospace sectors as well as adding additional targeted sanctions against Russian banks. With this step, all of Russia’s largest financial institutions, representing 80% of all banking assets in the country and almost 90 financial institution subsidiaries worldwide are targeted, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. 

“Treasury is taking serious and unprecedented action to deliver swift and severe consequences to the Kremlin and significantly impair their ability to use the Russian economy and financial system to further their malign activity,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.

On Monday, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and the European Commission took further steps against Russia’s financial system by removing some Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, which 11,000 financial institutions globally use to send secure messages about financial transactions. They also restricted the Russian Central Banks’ access to most of its reserves —$643 billion in foreign currency— to make it more difficult for the country to soften the blow of the sanctions.

Also on Monday, investor’s weighed in by sending Russia’s currency, the Ruble, tumbling. Within hours, it lost a quarter of its value and is now worth less than a U.S. penny. To try to control the situation, Russia’s central bank more than doubled a key interest rate, banned foreigners from selling Russian securities, and ordered exporters to convert revenues in foreign currency to Rubles.

The financial instability caused Russians to line up at banks to withdraw their savings. Because of the precipitous fall in the value of the Ruble, millions of Russians lost a huge chunk of their net worth.

There were also long lines inside Moscow’s metro, as riders fumbled for cash to buy tickets after Apple Pay and Google Pay stopped working in the country.

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