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Russia promises ‘tough response’ after US slaps sanctions more oligarchs for ‘malign activity’ around the world

The penalties are part of a concerted and ongoing effort by Donald Trump’s administration to push back on President Vladimir Putin’s government and his inner circle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2018, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 April, 2018, 5:23am

Russia has promised retribution for new US sanctions that were slapped on seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials on Friday.

The US said the sanctions were in response to what it called “malign activity” around the world, as the Trump administration tried to show that US President Donald Trump is taking tough action to stand up to Moscow.

“We will not let the current attack, or any new anti-Russian attack, go without a tough response,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a key target of the sanctions, called them “groundless, ridiculous and absurd.” 

“The events this morning are very unfortunate but not unexpected,” Deripaska said in a statement provided by a spokesperson for Basic Element, one of his businesses. 

“Certainly the grounds for putting my name on the list of SDNs as provided by US officials are groundless, ridiculous and absurd,” he added, using the acronym for Specially Designated Nationals.

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 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 and his inner circle, emphasising 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 criticising Putin himself, and recently invited the Russian leader to meet with him, possibly at the White House. 

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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.

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 behaviour, said the officials, who weren’t authorised to comment by name and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The sanctions freeze any assets that those targeted have in US jurisdictions and bars Americans from doing business with them. 

It was not clear whether any of those hit have significant, or any, holdings that would be covered and most of them were warned of possible penalties in January when they were identified as possible targets on lists published by the Treasury and State departments. 

The administration officials said Americans who may currently have business with them would be given guidance about how to wind down that business and avoid running afoul of the sanctions.

The officials ticked through a list of activities they said had prompted the US to act, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, backing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, support for Syrian President Bashar al-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 Putin’s position of power are fair game for US punishments, noting that many of those being sanctioned are closely tied to Putin himself.

Targets include:

● Kirill Shamalov, who married his daughter Katerina Tikhonova, although neither Putin nor the Kremlin have acknowledged that she is his daughter.

Igor Rotenberg, the son of Arkady Rotenberg, a friend of Putin’s friend since they were teenagers.

Andrey Kostin, named among government officials, heads the nation’s second-largest bank, VTB, which is controlled by the state.

Alexei Miller, the long-time head of the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant. Both Miller and Kostin are long-time key members of Putin’s team.

Other oligarchs on the list include some top names on the Forbes’ list of billionaires, aren’t part of Putin’s inner circle but like any other billionaire tycoons in Russia they vie for the Kremlin’s attention to preserve and extend their business empires.

Also targeted is aluminium 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.

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.

Trump administration ‘will put sanctions on Russian tycoons soon’

One of those hit by Friday’s sanctions, Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee, expressed surprise he had not already been blacklisted by the US.

“As far as I am concerned the only thing I’m surprised at is that this didn’t happen earlier,” he told the Interfax news agency. “I never made secret of my criticism of the US foreign policy, and I will not change my stance.”

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 authorises the president to impose sanctions on Iran for destabilising activity in the Middle East and North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

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 behaviour, including the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain that has been blamed on Moscow.

This report contains additional information from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.