The US Treasury Department on Thursday imposed new sanctions on four Ukrainian officials, including two current members of parliament who administration officials say are part of an effort to influence Russians to serve as a pretext for another invasion. from Ukraine.
The sanctions name parliamentarians Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn and two former government officials. According to the Treasury, all four were intimately involved in the disinformation efforts of Russia’s federal security service, known as the FSB.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the four men were at the heart of a Kremlin effort started in 2020 “to degrade the Ukrainian state’s ability to function independently”.
The new sanctions were announced less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden said he believed Moscow would invade Ukraine again. He warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lost lives and possible restriction of access to the global banking system if it did.
Biden has been criticized by Republicans and Ukrainian officials for inviting a limited Russian invasion by suggesting in comments to reporters on Wednesday that the United States would respond with a measured response if there was only a “minor incursion.” . Administration officials immediately sought to clarify his remarks, and Biden himself did so on Thursday.
“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said Thursday. “He has no misunderstanding: all Russian units assembled are crossing the Ukrainian border, it’s an invasion.”
Biden said Wednesday that his team is considering possible sanctions against Moscow that would target Russia’s banking system, restricting its ability “to trade in dollars.” Biden was referring to potentially limiting Russia’s access to “dollar clearing” – the conversion of payments by banks on behalf of customers into US dollars from rubles or other foreign currencies, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire who co-led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Ukraine last weekend, told reporters Thursday she understood the administration was still analyzing what the impact would be on d other countries if Russia was banned from SWIFT, a banking system. which manages the flow of money in the world.
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, in a Twitter post, urged the administration to take action to ensure that “Russian oligarchs who support Putin” aren’t “able to spend their weekends doing shopping in Monaco and Paris”.
The White House warned last week that Russia had stationed agents in and around Ukraine, possibly to create a pretext for an invasion. US and Ukrainian officials have also expressed concern about Russia’s weaponization of disinformation.
“The United States is taking action to expose and counter Russia’s dangerous and threatening campaign of influence and disinformation in Ukraine,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. “We pledge to take action to hold Russia accountable for its destabilizing actions.”
Kozak, who controls several news channels in Ukraine, is accused of amplifying false narratives about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s inner circle and the 2020 elections. Voloshyn worked with Russia’s FSB to undermine Ukrainian government officials , said the Treasury.
Treasury officials say Voloshyn also worked with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who had previously been sanctioned for allegedly trying to influence the 2016 US presidential election and passing information to Russian intelligence.
The Treasury also sanctioned Ukraine’s former deputy secretary for national security and defense advice, Vladimir Sivkovich. The administration says Sivkovich worked last year with a network of Russian intelligence activists to conduct influence operations aimed at building support for Ukraine to formally cede Crimea to Russia in exchange for a withdrawal of Russian-backed forces. Russian troops seized Crimea in 2014 and Russia later annexed the Black Sea peninsula.
The other former official cited is Volodymyr Oliynyk, who the Treasury says worked under the direction of the FSB to gather intelligence on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Oliynk currently lives in Russia, according to the Treasury.
Biden noted Thursday that Russia “has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression.”
Following his speculation of a “minor incursion” by Russia, Biden stressed that any invasion would be seen as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and would have serious consequences for Russia. Nevertheless, his comments shook Kiev.
“We want to remind the big powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Zelenskyy tweeted Thursday shortly before the new sanctions were announced. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief over the loss of loved ones.”
Some 100,000 Russian troops have massed near the Ukrainian border. Russian officials are demanding written guarantees that NATO will not expand westward. The members of the alliance refuse to give such a pledge.