US freezes assets in sweeping sanctions against Russia, Putin allies for ‘malign activity’

Responding to what is described as “malign activity,” the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) levied a new series of sanctions against 24 individuals and entities linked to the Kremlin on Friday.

The new sanctions follow similar measures taken by Washington in March against 19 Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement describing how the Kremlin “operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin unveiled new penalties specifically targeting the Russian financial and energy sectors.

“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,” Mnuchin said in a statement.

“(Russians) who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

Under the new sanctions, the main assets of seven Russian oligarchs and 12 firms of which they own, 17 senior Russian government officials, and a state-owned Russian weapons company and its subsidiary bank have been frozen.

Those targeted for sanctions range widely:  They include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, as well as his bodyguard, billionaire aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, gold magnate Suleiman Kerimov, former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, and state-owned arms manufacturer Rosoboronexport.

“(The sanctions are) designed to communicate seriousness and really up the ante with Russia,” said former Treasury Dept. adviser Elizabeth Rosenberg, now of the Center for a New American Security. “By naming a number of oligarchs and state entities, including in the energy sector, it’s meaningful because they’re aiming at sensitive industries in Russia that generate a lot of revenue.”

The response from Moscow was swift:  A Foreign Ministry statement said no foreign pressure would alter the method of Russian policy and sanctions would bring together the Russian people.

Denouncing the U.S. action, the Foreign Ministry statement continued and vowed a prompt reaction:

“Of course we will not leave this current and any new anti-Russian attack without a harsh answer, but first of all we would like to recommend that Washington discard illusions that we can be spoken to in the language of sanctions.”

“Having not waited for the desired effect of previous sanctions, Washington politicians have reached such absurdity that they are trying to hit our companies that have long maintained business ties with the United States, on which thousands of jobs depend there.”

In tune with the Russian Foreign Ministry, Kremlin critic Alex Navalny lashed out at the new penalties as absurd:

“This is a path to nowhere. You can’t intimidate Russia with this, let alone break it.”

Despite Friday’s action by the Treasury Department, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters President Trump seeks improved ties with the Kremlin and the sanctions have not altered plans to host Mr. Putin at the White House in the near future.

 

[BBC] [Reuters] [Bloomberg] [The Moscow Times] [Photo courtesy AP via ITV]