Vodka, diamonds, and caviar: President Biden bans signature Russian imports

March 11, 2022, 10:38 PM UTC

President Biden banned signature Russian imports including vodka, diamonds, and seafood on Friday, marking his latest effort to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.

“Putin is the aggressor, and Putin must pay a price,” Biden said in brief comments from the White House during which he vowed to continue isolating Russia’s economy.  

The president also announced plans to work with allies to further target Russian billionaires’ “ill-begotten gains” in the coming months. The U.S. and its allies have already put a number of oligarchs on sanctions lists and begun seizing their superyachts, private jets, and multimillion-dollar vacation homes.

“They support Putin. They steal from the Russian people. And they seek to hide their money in our countries. They’re part of a kleptocracy that exists in Moscow. And they must share in the pain of these sanctions,” Biden said.

The president added that the U.S will also ban exports of luxury goods to Russia in a move meant to put further pressure on Russia’s elite. He provided no detailed list of banned brands, but Russia does supply the U.S. with caviar and high-end alcohol. 

An end to Russia’s preferential trade status

Also on Friday, the president called on lawmakers to end Russia’s preferential trade status, which would dramatically increase import tariffs on goods imported from the country and add the country to a club of pariah states that includes North Korea and Cuba.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will consider legislation to remove Russia’s permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status as soon as next week. The vote is expected to have wide bipartisan support.

“Revoking PNTR for Russia is going to make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States,” the president said. “Doing it in unison with other nations that make up half of the global economy will be another crushing blow to the Russian economy that’s already suffering very badly from our sanctions.” 

Russia’s struggling economy

President Biden then revealed plans to work with allies to deny Russia’s ability to borrow from leading multinational institutions, adding to Russia’s economic pain.

The Russian economy has already been hit hard by U.S. and E.U. sanctions, causing the Russian ruble to lose roughly half of its value this past month alone and leading to devastating effects for average Russian consumers. 

The Russian stock market also remained closed on Friday. Trading on the Moscow Exchange was halted just a day after the Ukraine invasion began on Feb. 24.

In a further sign of economic collapse, rating agency Fitch also downgraded Russia’s bonds to junk status this week, warning that “sovereign default is imminent.” Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley said a Russian default could come as soon as next month.

“As Putin continues his merciless assault, the United States and our allies and partners continue to work in lockstep to ramp up the economic pressures on Putin and to further isolate Russia,” Biden said.

The newest set of sanctions comes just days after the Biden administration moved to ban imports of Russian oil and natural gas products.

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