The United States government piled on new financial and trade sanctions against Russian banks and leaders today – just the latest of numerous sanctions levied as part of the U.S. response to the invasion that began in late February – but the provision of Internet and phone services continues to remain off the sanctions list.

That’s because in the off-battlefield war for hearts and minds within Russia, the United States wants to keep avenues open for Russians to get communications from outside their home country, where, by all accounts, a government-led propaganda campaign is casting the invasion as a fight against alleged fascism in Ukraine.

Latest Sanctions Targets

The White House announced the latest round of sanctions today, which it said amount to “devastating economic measures to ban new investment in Russia, and impose the most severe financial sanctions on Russia’s largest bank and several of its most critical state-owned enterprises and on Russian government officials and their family members.”

“These sweeping financial sanctions follow our action earlier this week to cut off Russia’s frozen funds in the United States to make debt payments,” the White House said, adding that “these measures are designed to reinforce each other to generate intensifying impact over time.”

The sanctions include restrictions on additional large Russian banks including Sberbank and Alfa Bank, and prohibitions on new investments in Russia by any U.S. entities. The White House said today the latest sanctions come in response to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin “for its atrocities in Ukraine, including in Bucha.”

The Value of Information

Keeping communications lifelines open to Russia, however, is viewed by the White House as essential to give “outside perspectives” on the war to Russian citizens.

“As we continue escalating our sanctions and other economic measures against Russia for its brutal war against Ukraine, we reiterate our commitment to exempting essential humanitarian and related activities that benefit the Russian people and people around the world,” the White said.

Those essential humanitarian elements, the White House said, include: “ensuring the availability of basic foodstuffs and agricultural commodities, safeguarding access to medicine and medical devices, and enabling telecommunications services to support the flow of information and access to the internet which provides outside perspectives to the Russian people.”

“These activities are not the target of our efforts, and U.S. and Western companies can continue to operate in these sectors in Russia,” the White House said. “When necessary, relevant departments and agencies will issue appropriate exemptions and carveouts to ensure such activity is not disrupted.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.