US imposes new sanctions on 5 prominent Russians

WASHINGTON. — The United States has imposed new sanctions on five prominent Russians, including a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US Treasury Department announced on Monday that the sanctions were meant to punish Russia over what it called human rights abuses.

Under the act named after Russian tax fraud whistleblower Sergey Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail in 2009, the five Russian people will have their US assets blocked and are banned from travelling to the United States.

Chief federal investigator Alexander Bastrykin and two other men, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, who are wanted in the UK for the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko a decade ago, were blacklisted.

Gennady Plaksin, former head of the Universal Savings Bank and Stanislav Gordiyevsky, former investigative agency official are the other two targets who both are said to be involved in covering up Magnitsky’s death.

The figures include those who have played “roles in the repressive machinery of Russia’s law enforcement systems, as well as individuals involved in notorious human rights violations,” US State Department’s John Kirby said on Monday.

“Each of the most recently added names was considered after extensive research,” Kirby added.

The reason why the Magnitsky Act had still not included President Putin himself was that Washington does not want a complete breakdown in its ties with Moscow, according to a senior administration official. “We need to preserve the possibility of working with Russia in areas in which it is in the US national interest,” the official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

“This includes pressing for diplomatic solutions to the crises in Syria and eastern Ukraine. Our goal in imposing sanctions is to change behaviour . . . We have taken steps to make clear that interference in US democratic processes will not go unanswered.”

Washington expelled 35 Russian diplomats last month over US accusations that Russia influenced the November 8 presidential election in favour of Trump and against his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. US intelligence agencies have claimed that Russians hacked Democratic Party emails to damage Clinton, an allegation Moscow has dismissed.

Trump, who disputed the findings by the US intelligence community, has repeatedly pledged to improve ties with Russia.

The Kremlin deplored yesterday the United States’ blacklisting of a high-ranking official and the prime suspects in the 2006 murder of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko as a move that further damages bilateral ties.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Washington’s decision to blacklist Bastrykin and Litvinenko’s alleged assassins, Lugovoi and Kovtun, represented “further steps in the artificially created degradation of our relations”.

“We deeply regret the fact that a lingering period of unprecedented degradation in our bilateral ties occurred during Obama’s second presidential term,” Peskov said.

“We are convinced that this does not coincide with our interests or that of Washington.”

However, Obama’s response to alleged Russia hacking attacks was “disproportionate,” says a top aide to Trump, noting that the Republican president-elect is likely to roll back some of his predecessor’s actions against Moscow once he gets into office. Kellyanne Conway, who led Trump’s presidential campaign, made the remarks on Monday night, when answering a question by USA Today on whether Trump would review any of Obama’s “steps” against Russia.

“There does seem to be a disproportionate response, a punitive one, by President Obama in the instance of the alleged Russian hacking,” Conway said.

“I predict that President Trump will want to make sure that our actions are proportionate to what occurred, based on what we know,” she added. — AFP/Press TV.

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