WASHINGTON: The United States warned Moscow on Tuesday of damaging sanctions, including measures personally targeting Vladimir Putin, as Russian combat troops massing around Ukraine launched new exercises, reports AFP.
Tension appeared to be increasing, with the White House saying the risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine "remains imminent."
"Yes. I would see that," Biden said when asked by reporters in Washington about targeting Putin, whom opponents have long accused of holding gigantic, secret wealth.
A senior US official laid out economic sanctions "with massive consequences" that go far beyond previous measures implemented in 2014 after Russia invaded Ukraine's Crimea region.
New measures would include restrictions on exports of high-tech US equipment in the artificial intelligence, quantum computing and aerospace sectors, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"What we're talking about are sophisticated technologies that we design and produce," and cutting them off would hit Putin's "strategic ambitions to industrialize his economy quite hard," the official said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed the threat, saying sanctions would be "heavier than anything we've ever done."
A day after Washington said it was putting 8,500 US troops on alert for possible deployment to bolster NATO forces in Europe, the Russian military announced it was conducting new drills involving 6,000 troops near Ukraine and within the Crimea region.
The drills included firing exercises with fighter jets, bombers, anti-aircraft systems and ships from the Black Sea and Caspian fleets, the defense ministry said.
According to Western officials, the Kremlin has already deployed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders, with reinforcements arriving from all over Russia.
Meanwhile, Russia on Wednesday hit back at US threats of direct sanctions against President Vladimir Putin, saying moves against the Russian leader would be ineffective and hurt efforts to lower tensions over Ukraine.
Officials from France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were set for talks in Paris on Wednesday in the latest bid to ease a crisis sparked by fears that Moscow is preparing an invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.
The West has warned Russia of severe consequences if it does invade, and on Tuesday, Washington said there could be sanctions personally targeting Putin.
Reacting to the news, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the threats as worthless because senior Russian officials are barred from holding assets abroad.
But such a move, he said, would do serious damage to diplomatic efforts to ease ratcheting tensions over Ukraine.
"Politically, it's not painful, it's destructive," Peskov told reporters.
The Kremlin has previously said any US sanctions personally targeting Putin would be akin to crossing a red line, warning the move could result in a rupture of bilateral ties.
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that any Russian military attack on Ukraine would trigger "enormous consequences" and could even "change the world".