Putin holds back on retaliatory sanctions against US over Crimea
US Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov describes US sanctions as "unlawful" and would only serve to create artificial barriers with the West
Reuters in Moscow
President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia should for the time being refrain from imposing sanctions on Americans in retaliation for punitive measures announced by the United States, Russian news agencies reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday international sanctions imposed on Russian officials and businessmen over the Crimea crisis were “absolutely unlawful” and would create artificial barriers with the West.
Lavrov made the remarks in a speech to the upper house of parliament in which he urged the chamber to approve a treaty signed by President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to make Ukraine’s Crimea region part of Russia.
The upper house of parliament unanimously approved a treaty on annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region on Friday, clearing the way for President Vladimir Putin to sign it into law.
The Federation Council followed the State Duma lower house by voting for the treaty. Putin is expected to complete the ratification process by signing the treaty at a ceremony with the speakers of both chambers later on Friday.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama raised the stakes in an East-West confrontation over Crimea by targeting some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest long-time political and business allies with personal sanctions.
The extension of visa bans and asset freezes into Putin’s inner circle came as Moscow rushed to consolidate the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, seized from Ukraine last month, and to boost its military presence in the region.
Russian troops took over three Ukrainian warships in Crimea on Thursday, using stun grenades in one incident, a Ukrainian spokesman said. Kiev also said it had begun withdrawing its border guards, surrounded and outnumbered by Russian forces, from Crimea to the mainland.
The 20 names added to the US blacklist included Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, major oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and at the Sochi Olympics, as well as Putin’s chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief.
Most grew rich after being associated with Putin since the former KGB officer began his ascent to power in the mayor’s office of St Petersburg in the 1990s.
In a statement explaining the sanctions, the US Treasury said: "Gennady Timchenko is one of the founders of Gunvor, one of the world’s largest independent commodity trading companies involved in the oil and energy markets.
"Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin. Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds."
Putin has denied any link with Gunvor in the past. The Swiss-based oil trading company said in a statement that Putin had no ownership of Gunvor and "any understanding otherwise is fundamentally misinformed and outrageous".
It also said Timchenko, who has Finnish as well as Russian citizenship, had sold his 43 per cent stake in Gunvor to its chief executive, Torbjorn Tornqvist, on Wednesday as part of what the company called a "contingency plan".
Moscow retaliated by announcing its own sanctions against senior US politicians, with the Foreign Ministry saying Washington's sanctions would "hit the United States like a boomerang".