Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, arrives for a Democratic policy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine is cosponsoring legislation that aims to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates from using cryptocurrencies to evade severe economic sanctions.

The push comes as sanctions from the U.S. and its Western allies in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have limited the country’s access to the global economy but failed to stop the brutal assault on Ukraine, with casualties mounting more than a month into the war.

The U.S. and its European allies have already frozen the assets of major Russian oligarchs and blocked key Russian banks from the most common financial messaging system, as well as severely limited trade with Russia, including blocking many technology exports.

But some lawmakers have raised concerns that Russia could use cryptocurrencies or other digital assets that are harder to trace as an effort to mitigate the effects of sanctions. The chair of Russia’s lower legislative body floated the idea of taking payment for oil and gas in bitcoin last month, CNBC reported.

“If we don’t take action, digital assets and cryptocurrencies could provide Putin and his oligarchs the exact lifeline they’re looking for — and extend this attack longer,” King said in a release.

The legislation, introduced by a group of Democratic senators last month, would require the president to identify digital assets, including cryptocurrencies, that were helping Russia evade sanctions and prohibit them from trading within the U.S. It would also give the U.S. Treasury the authority to block trading platforms under U.S. jurisdiction from carrying out transactions with Russian actors.

The effort to crack down on cryptocurrency follows similar attempts to target other assets, such as gold reserves, that U.S. officials warned could be used by Russia to evade sanctions. King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, was part of that push as well.