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U.S. blacklists 15 Russian entities linked to Ukraine and Crimea
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday blacklisted 15 Russian individuals and companies for their dealings in Crimea and Ukraine, creating an early test for the new administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who is widely expected to roll back the pressure campaign against Russia.
The Treasury Department designated seven individuals and eight corporate entities involved in a range of projects, including the construction of a bridge connecting Russia to the Crimean peninsula. It also targeted businesspeople who are associates of President Vladimir Putin or are involved in activities that aid in Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine.
“Today’s action is in response to Russia’s unlawful occupation of Crimea and continued aggression in Ukraine,” John E. Smith, the acting director of the Treasury’s office of foreign assets control, said in a statement.
“These targeted sanctions,” he added, “aim to maintain pressure on Russia by sustaining the costs of its occupation of Crimea and disrupting the activities of those who support the violence and instability in Ukraine.”
Administration officials said the measures were part of a regular updating of the sanctions, once every six months, to keep them in sync with an extension of sanctions announced Monday by the European Union. But the timing had extra resonance, coming after the victory of Trump, who has called for a rapprochement with Russia and has named people to his Cabinet who have called for the sanctions to be lifted, such as Rex Tillerson, the president-elect’s choice for secretary of state.
Some analysts predicted that the European Union would not renew its sanctions after the election, anticipating a reversal by the United States. Italy, Hungary and Slovakia were among those that argued the sanctions were not working and were damaging Europe economically.
But Obama has worked closely with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to keep a united front against Russia. The administration’s move was a final show of solidarity with Europe by the president, who also telephoned Merkel on Monday evening to express condolences for the deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.
There are reasons to question whether it will be the last time the United States tightens the economic vise on Moscow. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, sat next to Putin at an anniversary dinner for RT, the state-backed broadcaster, last December.
Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., is also close to Putin and has done business in Russia for years. Exxon Mobil has a number of projects that are permitted under U.S. sanctions.
But other projects have been halted by the sanctions, including a deal with the Russian state oil company to explore and pump in Siberia that could be worth tens of billions of dollars. Tillerson has been open about his view that the sanctions should be lifted.
Among the entities targeted by the Treasury Department are two ships, Marshal Zhukov and Stalingrad, which have transported fuel to and from Crimea, as well as companies that maintain the railway and ports.
Among the individuals designated by the department are Kirill Kovalchuk, Dmitri Lebedev and Dmitri Mansurov, executives at banks with close ties to the Russian leadership. The Treasury Department also designated Evgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with links to a company building a military base near the Russian border with Ukraine.
Administration officials said these sanctions were not related to the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Obama said Friday that the United States would respond to those cyberattacks with a mixture of public and covert measures before he left office, but he declined to give details.