WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is narrowing its targets for a barrage of economic sanctions against Russia if it attacks Ukraine—hitting major Russian banks, state companies and needed imports, though the strategy faces obstacles that have hindered previous pressure campaigns.
Administration officials said the planned actions are being finalized and are unparalleled in recent decades against Russia, putting teeth into President Biden’s threat to apply punishing financial and other sanctions in the event of a Russian assault.
While final decisions haven’t been made, the officials said, the potential targets include several of Russia’s largest government-owned banks, such as VTB Bank RU:VTBR, the banning of all trade in new issues of Russian sovereign debt and the application of export controls across key sectors such as advanced microelectronics.
Past U.S. efforts to wage economic warcraft have produced mixed results. Iran and North Korea, for example, have adjusted over time to broad economic embargoes over their nuclear weapons programs, though not without ongoing pain for their economies and people. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the Obama administration went after some energy technology, sovereign debt and some government-owned banks and firms, though their narrow scope didn’t exact deep damage.
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