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U.S. punishes Russian oligarchs, officials with more sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Kemerovo, Russia, in March. Credit: AP / Alexei Druzhinin

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration imposed its severest sanctions on Russia yet on Friday, targeting President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and 37 other Russian oligarchs, top government officials and their companies for “malign activity” across the world.

The new round of sanctions against Russia, the third in the past month, represented a Trump administration bid to ratchet up pressure on Putin through his closest friends and allies in government and the billionaires who run key energy and other industries.

“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 Steven T. Mnuchin in a 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,” he said.

The sanctions freeze any assets under U.S. jurisdiction and bar U.S. citizens’ dealings with seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies they own or control, as well as 17 senior Russian government officials and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company its subsidiary bank.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement vowing retaliation.

“We will not let the current attack, or any new anti-Russian attack, go without a tough response,” the ministry said. “Having obtained zero results from the 50 previous rounds of sanctions, Washington continues to employ fear with the refusal to issue American visas, the threatening of Russian businesses with the freezing of companies’ assets and property, while forgetting that the requisitioning of private property and other people’s money is known as theft.”

Among the billionaire oligarchs hit with sanctions was Kirill Shamalov, who since marrying Putin’s daughter in 2013 has acquired a large portion of shares in a Russian-based company involved in gas and oil exploration, production, processing and refining.

Another oligarch close to Putin listed in the sanctions is billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who is linked to Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Deripaska controls eight of the sanctioned companies.

The punitive action was imposed on Russia in response to a measure Congress passed last summer requiring the Trump administration to produce a list of Kremlin-connected officials involved in or responsible for the Russian meddling in the 2016 election and cyber intrusions.

The new sanctions, issued through the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, do not respond to any single event and have been coordinated with Europeans allies, senior administration officials said in a background briefing Friday.

President Donald Trump has continued his attempt to seek better relations with Putin, and, according to the Kremlin, invited the Russian president to visit the White House during Trump’s phone call to congratulate his foregone election victory last month.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s stance on Russia amid questions about why the president did not issue a statement instead of Mnuchin.

“He wants to have a good relationship with Putin but that’s going to be dependent on the behavior of Russia,” Sanders said.

Torrey Taussig, an expert on U.S.-Russia relations and a fellow at the Washington think tank Brookings Institution, said the sanctions are “the most significant we have seen yet” under Trump because they target individuals and entities from the revenue-rich Russian energy sectors and who “are considered the elites that surround Putin.”

She added, “If we are looking for sanctions that will have the ability to affect Putin’s calculus, it’s these type of actions we would want to see.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the sanctions but added, “I again urge President Trump to clearly articulate a comprehensive strategy to counter malign Russian government behavior in all of its forms.”

Other officials and oligarchs sanctioned include Igor Rotenberg, the son of Arkady Rotenberg, a friend of Putin’s since they were teenagers; Andrey Kostin, who heads the nation’s second-largest and state-controlled bank, VTB; and Alexei Miller, the longtime head of the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant.

With AP

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