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White House applies more pressure on those helping Russia evade sanctions

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. So that is one source of pressure on corporations. And here's another. President Biden's administration says it's applying more pressure on companies and countries helping Russia, companies helping Russia to evade sanctions that it's under for invading Ukraine. The strategy includes more enforcement and also more publicity, calling out all involved. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Just about anyone who has dealt with sanctions will tell you there are two truisms. They take a long time to have an effect, and there's always leakage. The Biden administration is now starting to plug some of the holes in the Russian sanctions regime, says Brian O'Toole, a former senior Treasury Department official now with the Atlantic Council.

BRIAN O'TOOLE: The administration's picking up that little padded mallet, and they're going to go out and start whacking moles.

NORTHAM: Anne Clunan, a Russia specialist at the Naval Postgraduate School, says one of the things Russia learned after it seized Crimea in 2014 was that it could wait out sanctions and continue to build its military.

ANNE CLUNAN: Some of the most important ways of changing that thinking - because Putin still thinks he's in a waiting game where he can wait out sanctions, and the Russian economy can adapt to those sanctions - is to ensure that the sanctions are as effective as possible. And that means, you know, preventing evasion.

NORTHAM: The Treasury Department, Commerce and other agencies are now putting more pressure on third parties and countries helping Russia evade sanctions. Clunan says administration officials have been giving speeches where they name countries involved.

CLUNAN: To call out the Chinese, to call out the Turks and the Armenians and the UAE is, I think, really important because it's a signal to them that, you know, we are watching and that we will take steps to go after individuals and entities that are evading sanctions.

NORTHAM: Particularly important is whether countries are exporting Western technology or their own to help Russia's military. Wally Adeyemo is deputy treasury secretary.

WALLY ADEYEMO: For example, Russia has been attempting to import things like sophisticated refrigerators in order to bring them into the country and then strip out the semiconductors and use those semiconductors to build equipment.

NORTHAM: Adeyemo says the current strategy involves broadening the number of countries involved in fighting sanctions evasion. He said that includes letting them know they have a choice. They can do business with Russia, or they can do business with the U.S. and its allies, which represents 50% of the global economy. Adeyemo says Treasury and Commerce officials are also visiting a lot of countries bordering Russia.

ADEYEMO: What we're doing is providing intelligence and information to countries where Russia is trying to get this equipment to stop them from being able to do that and working closely with them to hold companies and individuals accountable in their country.

NORTHAM: Adeyemo says no country is immune, including China. He says the administration hasn't seen China provide Russia with equipment that has, quote, "materially changed its position on the battlefield." But...

ADEYEMO: We've taken actions when we've seen Chinese firms do things that violate our sanctions - for example, sanctioning a Chinese satellite company that was providing imagery that was helping to fight Russia's illegal war in Ukraine.

NORTHAM: The Atlantic Council's O'Toole says the effort to counter sanctions evasion will lean both on diplomacy and enforcement. O'Toole says there are signs that efforts by the U.S. and its allies are having an effect that can be built on.

O'TOOLE: There have been some indications that, you know, China might be not interested in selling weaponized drones to Russia. There are indications that some of the Turkish channels might be starting to dry up a little bit. Maybe not much, but, you know, some indications there.

NORTHAM: O'Toole says he expects more individuals and entities will be added to the sanctions list in the months to come as the U.S. and its allies attempt to maintain the pressure on Russia. Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "DON'T GO (PORTICO QUARTET REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.