Top US sanctions official delivers warning to Austria on Russia

FILE PHOTO: A bronze seal for the Department of the Treasury is shown at the U.S. Treasury building in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo © Thomson Reuters

By Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and John O’Donnell

VIENNA (Reuters) – A top U.S. sanctions official will visit Austrian authorities as well as Raiffeisen Bank International on March 7-8, the U.S. embassy to Austria said on Wednesday, ratcheting up pressure on the biggest Western bank in Russia.

Anna Morris, a U.S. Treasury official focused on illicit money flows, will encourage banks in Austria to evaluate their exposure to Russia and “take mitigation measures”, the embassy said.

Morris is the latest in a line of U.S. officials to visit Austria, one of the European countries with the closest ties to Russia.

Morris will outline a new U.S. sanctions authority, the embassy said, adding that this body would “create heightened risks for banks and incentivize them to take measures to protect themselves from trade related to Russia’s military industrial base, or risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system.”

It is the latest attempt by the United States to exert pressure on Raiffeisen, which processes large volumes of payments to and from Russia.

The United States is the globe’s most powerful regulator chiefly because it can sever a bank’s access to the dollar, a cornerstone of international finance.

The visit follows an executive order from U.S. President Joe Biden last December threatening penalties for financial institutions that help Russia circumvent sanctions, upping the stakes for banks like Raiffeisen.

Source: Reuters/Reporting By John O’Donnell; Editing by Kirsten Donovan