U.S. takes aim at Russian oligarchs in fresh sanctions


U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at Yellowjacket Union during his visit to the University of Wisconsin-Superior, in Superior, Wisconsin, U.S. March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions against Russian oligarchs as it targeted Russia's super-rich and others close to President Vladimir Putin, further ratcheting up financial pressure over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The United States imposed full blocking sanctions on eight oligarchs and officials, including Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov, taking aim at those who have amassed fortunes and political influence through their connections to Putin.

"We want him (Putin) to feel the squeeze, we want the people around him to feel the squeeze," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

The move is the latest in a series of sanctions announced by Washington so far, including against Putin and the central bank, after Russia's forces invaded Ukraine in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. Moscow calls the assault a "special operation."

Washington on Thursday imposed sanctions on Usmanov, founder of Russian mining company Metalloinvest, whom the White House described as a “one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals and a close ally of Putin.”

The move blocks his property from use in the United States and by U.S. persons, including his luxury yacht that the White House said was seized by Germany, and his private jet.

The U.S. Treasury Department took the rare step of including in what are normally textual news releases a pair of photos of Usmanov's super-yacht and private jet.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, whom the White House accused of being "a top purveyor of Putin's propaganda," was also targeted in the move.

Nikolay Tokarev, the chief executive of energy giant Transneft, was designated along with his wife, daughter and his two luxury real estate companies.

Billionaires Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and several family members were also hit with sanctions, as was Igor Shuvalov, a Russian politician and Putin's former deputy prime minister who heads the State Development Corporation.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, previously targeted for alleged attempts to interfere in U.S. elections, was designated again. The Treasury described him as the Russian financier of the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and said his "influence apparatus is reportedly supporting Russian Government designed influence operations within Ukraine."

"Treasury is committed to holding Russian elites to account for their support of President Putin’s war of choice," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

TARGETING DISINFORMATION

In addition to sanctions against Russian elites, the Treasury designated 26 Russia- and Ukraine-based individuals and seven Russian entities, some linked to Russian intelligence services, accused of spreading disinformation aimed at destabilizing the Ukrainian government.

The United States will also impose visa restrictions on 19 Russian oligarchs, their family members and associates, the White House said in a statement.

Thursday's action helps bring the United States in line with measures the European Union took earlier this week.

The EU on Monday imposed sanctions on 26 prominent people over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including oligarchs and business people active in the oil, banking and finance sectors. The EU measures included Peskov and Usmanov.

Britain on Thursday also imposed sanctions on Usmanov and Shuvalov.

Thursday's measures come after the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday launched a task force known as "KleptoCapture" aimed at straining the finances of Russia's oligarchs.

The United States and its allies last week announced they would launch a task force to identify and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs.

Washington has repeatedly warned that it is prepared to take further measures to hold Moscow to account over its invasion of Ukraine.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would work to seize the yachts, luxury apartments and private jets of wealthy Russians with ties to Putin.

"We are coming for your ill-begotten gains," Biden said.

U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan on Thursday charged a television producer for Konstantin Malofeyev, described as a Russian oligarch, with violating Crimea-related sanctions.

The producer, U.S. citizen John Hanick, was arrested in February in London, and the United States is seeking his extradition. Prosecutors said Hanick was charged with violating U.S. sanctions arising from Russia's 2014 invasion of the Crimean peninsula.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Daphne Psaledakis and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

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