US punishes Russian oligarchs, officials with more sanctions

US punishes Russian oligarchs, officials with more sanctions

Treasury Department says it is acting in response to ‘ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern’ of bad behavior by Moscow

US President Donald Trump makes his way across the South Lawn upon returning to the White House on April 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump makes his way across the South Lawn upon returning to the White House on April 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States hit seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials with sanctions on Friday for what it called “malign activity” around the world, as the Trump administration tried to show that President Donald Trump is taking tough action to stand up to Moscow.

A dozen Russian companies owned by the oligarchs were also targeted, along with a state-owned arms-dealing company and a subsidiary bank, the Treasury Department said. Senior Trump administration officials cast the penalties as part of a concerted and ongoing effort by the US to push back Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, emphasizing that since Trump took office last year, the US has punished 189 Russian-related people and entities with sanctions.

Trump has continued to avoid directly criticizing Putin himself, and recently invited the Russian leader to meet with him, possibly at the White House. Still, in recent weeks Trump’s administration has rolled out a series of actions — including several economic and diplomatic steps — to increase pressure on Putin and those in his circle.

“Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, on November 11, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

Rather than punishing Russia for one specific action, the new sanctions are in response to “the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern” of bad behavior, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to comment by name and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The officials ticked through a list of activities they said had prompted the US to act, including Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, cyber-hacking and attempts to subvert Western democracy.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia’s government.

Many of the targets are individuals and businesses associated with Russia’s energy sector, including those affiliated with state-owned Gazprom. Officials said the goal was to show that those who have benefited financially from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position of power are fair game for US punishments, noting that many of those being sanctioned are closely tied to Putin himself.

Also targeted is aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a figure in the Russia investigation over his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Deripaska has been targeted with US sanctions previously, but officials said those being announced Friday were more comprehensive.

Paul Manafort walks from Federal District Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Many of the Russian oligarchs and politicians and affiliated businesses had already been identified by the Treasury and State Department as potential targets on a list that was compiled and published in January.

The sanctions freeze any assets that those targeted have in US jurisdictions and bars Americans from doing business with them. But the administration said it would give guidance to Americans who may currently have business with them about how to wind down that business and avoid running afoul of the sanctions.

The Trump administration used a variety of legal mechanisms to implement the sanctions, including the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Known as CAATSA, the law was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in 2017 and signed by President Donald Trump despite some objections. The law aims to punish Russia for interfering in the US election as well as actions intended to subvert democracy in Europe. The law also authorizes the president to impose sanctions on Iran for destabilizing activity in the Middle East and North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Last month, the US targeted 19 Russians and five other entities with sanctions in the first use of the law. The administration has also expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian consulates in response to Russian behavior, including the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain that has been blamed on Moscow.

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