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Australia Imposes New Sanctions to Tie up Russian Sovereign Debt, Banking Sector

Australia Imposes New Sanctions to Tie up Russian Sovereign Debt, Banking Sector

The Australian government has slapped additional sanctions on Russian banks and government entities, which control most of the country’s banking assets and its sovereign debt.

The March 18 announcement by Foreign Minister Marise Payne will see the Russian Wealth Fund and Ministry of Finance placed under sanctions, both entities are responsible for issuing and managing the country’s sovereign debt.

While the following banks Sberbank, Gazprombank, VEB, VTB, Rosselkhozbank, Sovcombank, Novikombank, Alfa-Bank, and Credit Bank of Moscow were all sanctioned and account for around 80 percent of Russia’s banking assets.

“The Australian government is deeply committed to imposing high costs on Russia,” Senator Payne said in a statement. “This includes by listing individuals of economic and strategic significance to Russia who have supported, and benefited from, the Putin regime.”

Australia Imposes New Sanctions to Tie up Russian Sovereign Debt, Banking Sector
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks at the 2022 Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 19, 2022. (Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

“We are also continuing to increase sanctions pressure on the oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin,” she said. “In addition to the 41 oligarchs and immediate family members on whom we had already put targeted financial sanctions and travel bans, Australia has now added two billionaires with links to business interests in Australia, Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg.”

Vekselberg, via a subsidiary, owns a 16 percent share of Falcon Oil and Gas, which is currently engaged in a joint venture with Australian listed energy company, Origin Energy, to frack the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory.

While Deripaska has a 44 percent of a company that has a majority stake in Russian aluminium company Rusal—it currently has a 20 percent share in the Queensland Alumina Limited refinery in Gladstone, Queensland.

The Australian government is in lockstep with democratic nations in sanctioning Russian leaders, state-owned enterprises, and its armed forces—there are an estimated 460 sanctions currently in place.

A task force, comprised of Australian, U.S., UK, Japanese, and European officials is currently combing through information to identify individuals and assets that can be either frozen or seized.

Emeritus legal professor Gabriel Moens has raised concerns, however, over the lack of transparency from democratic governments in how sanction targets are identified.

“Simply being an acquaintance of Vladimir Putin is neither a satisfactory nor a sufficient reason for depriving them of their property.” he wrote in The Epoch Times.

Australia Imposes New Sanctions to Tie up Russian Sovereign Debt, Banking Sector
Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich applauds, as players celebrate their league title win at the end of the Premier League football match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in London, on May 21, 2017. (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is because the act of seizure implies that they are guilty by association, even if they have not done anything to facilitate, or to support, the Kremlin’s catastrophic decision to invade Ukraine.

“The reality is that there are oligarchs who oppose the invasion and are prepared to use their resources to help the victims of Putin’s war of aggression,” he said about Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, who has vowed to sell off the club and donate the proceeds to the Ukraine war effort.

Meanwhile, millions have tuned in to a 2015 video of U.S. political scientist John Joseph Mearsheimer, who criticised successive U.S. foreign policy experts and presidents for misreading the Ukraine–Russia relationship and oversimplifying the situation by blaming Putin without considering Russia’s strategic interests.

“NATO expansion was driven by 21st-century men and women. They believe ‘balance of power’ politics is dead, that’s what happened here. [But] Putin is a 19th-century man. He does view the world in terms of balance of power politics,” Mearsheimer said, in reference to Russian concerns that a westernised and militarised Ukraine would pose a threat.

“We thought we could drive right up to his doorstep and it wouldn’t matter,” he said, noting that a neutral Ukraine would have been the ideal situation to create a “buffer state between NATO and Russia,” yet, this did not occur, instead false hope was given to the Ukrainians that it could fully join the West.

Australia Imposes New Sanctions to Tie up Russian Sovereign Debt, Banking Sector
British journalist Benjamin Hall is ‘out of Ukraine’ and in ‘good spirits’ after the attack (Pavel Dorogoy/AP)

When the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea occurred, it caught the Washington D.C. foreign policy establishment by surprise.

“What happened is that this major crisis broke out, and we had to assign blame, and of course, we were never going to blame ourselves. We were going to blame the Russians. So, we invented this story that Russia was bent on aggression in eastern Europe.”

In contrast, early in his presidency, Putin had expressed interest in joining NATO, but it is unknown why this did not eventuate.

Meanwhile, Russia has rejected reports it bombed a theatre in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol where civilians were sheltering.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in basements with no food, water, or power.

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