By Agence France Presse
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs accused of supporting and profiting from President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine western democracies.
Senior US officials described the wealthy international businessmen as members of Putin’s “inner circle” and said that any assets they hold in areas under US jurisdiction can be frozen.
Those hit by sanctions include metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, described as operating for the Russian government, as well as Alexei Miller, director of state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
In all, President Donald Trump’s administration targeted seven oligarchs, 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian officials and a state-owned arms export company.
“The United States is taking these actions in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity across the world,” one official said.
“This included their occupation of Crimea, instigation of violence in eastern Ukraine, support for the Assad regime in Syria … and ongoing malicious cyber-activity,” the official said.
“But most importantly this is a response to Russia’s continued attacks to subvert western democracies.”
The measures were taken under a US law passed to punish Russia for its alleged bid to interfere in the 106 US presidential election, engage in cyber-warfare and intervene in Ukraine and Syria.
But Friday’s announcement also came as Washington and its allies face a new diplomatic crisis with the Kremlin over the attempted poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil.
Trump begrudgingly signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) into law in August last year, despite arguing that its terms were “seriously flawed.”
The president had long disputed the idea that Russia’s alleged cyber-espionage and propaganda efforts had sped him to victory in the election and long sought better relations with Putin.
But Congress, backed by evidence from US intelligence agencies persisted, and in March the administration finally imposed sanctions on 19 Russian entities for “malicious cyber attacks.”
In parallel, and to Trump’s fury, former FBI chief Robert Mueller has been empowered as a special prosecutor to investigate claims of collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia.
So far Mueller has indicted 19 people, including 13 Russian nationals, and reports suggest he is close to asking to interview Trump himself.
US officials confirmed that their action against the oligarchs was in part related to Russia’s interference in US politics, but stressed the broader nature of their concerns.
“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
“Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”