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U.S. Targets Russian Tycoons, Security Chiefs With Sanctions

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller is on the new list of sanctioned individuals. (file photo)
Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller is on the new list of sanctioned individuals. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The United States has imposed new asset freezes and financial restrictions against more than two dozen Russian political and business elites thought to have close ties to President Vladimir Putin in the latest U.S. effort to punish Moscow for “malign activity around the globe.”

The sanctions announced by the U.S. Treasury Department on April 6 includes some of Russia’s wealthiest and most prominent business leaders -- including metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska, state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller, and aluminum investor Viktor Vekselberg.

Also named was Kirill Shamalov, whom the Treasury Department identified as having married Putin’s younger daughter in 2013.

“The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions were levied under a 2017 law passed by Congress over President Donald Trump’s objections. In January, the administration came under criticism in Congress and elsewhere for releasing an “oligarchs’ list” -- naming the business and political leaders who could be potentially targeted -- but not actually imposing any penalties.

Russia's Foreign Ministry responded to the move with a scathing statement, condemning the sanctions as illegal and promising unspecified retaliatory measures.

"Washington politicians have reached such absurdity that they are trying to strike at the companies that have long maintained business ties with the United States, which thousands of jobs depend on," the Russian ministry said. "In other words, they strike at ordinary Americans, their own voters, and they destroy economic cooperation, to their own detriment."

The Russian Embassy in Washington earlier posted a tweet saying the measures were aimed "at the Russian people, against the labor force of our enterprises."

"American authorities aim to rend apart our society. It will not happen. In the face of external pressure, the country will always unite around its leader," it said.

A leading lawmaker in Russia's lower chamber of parliament also condemned the move.

"There are no comprehensible reasons or justifiable grounds for the United States to expand its sanctions yet again,” Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

“This is a manifestation of unbridled anti-Russian hysteria being fostered in the United States, which it is successfully exporting to the European continent.”

Slutsky also accused Washington of "continuing to use sanctions measures to win competitive advantages for American companies on global markets."

Among the government officials targeted by the sanctions are Putin's former bodyguard and powerful security official Viktor Zolotov, Putin's Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, and Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev.

Several of the people and companies have been targeted in the past under various sanctions programs related to Russian cyberactivity, Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Others targeted include former prime minister and foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov, VTB bank chief Andrei Kostin, and Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev.

The Russian government “operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” Mnuchin said in the statement. “Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

The new measures come amid badly strained ties between Russia and the West that have deteriorated further over the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain last month -- a military-grade nerve agent attack that London and the United States blame on Moscow.

A senior U.S. administration official said in a conference call with reporters that the new measures had been under consideration for some time, and Skripal's poisoning was only the latest development.

The U.S. official said the latest sanctions were imposed “in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity around the world.”

“Мost importantly, this is in response to Russia’s continuing attack to subvert Western democracies,” the official said.

Among the companies targeted are Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

Shamalov, who owned a substantial stake in the oil-and-gas company Sibur, was widely reported in Western and Russian media to have married Putin’s younger daughter Katerina several years ago.

The Kremlin has never denied nor confirmed whether Shamalov was Putin’s son-in-law, and it was not clear if the two are still married.

The Treasury Department said Shamalov and Katerina married in February 2013 and that Shamalov's fortunes "drastically improved following the marriage."

Trump, who has repeatedly said he would like closer cooperation with Moscow, has faced pressure over what many lawmakers in Washington see as his reluctance to punish Russia for various actions.

Earlier this week, Trump said "nobody's been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump."

Shortly after Trump made that statement, his outgoing national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the United States had "failed to impose sufficient costs" on Russia.

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