The US government on Thursday imposed sanctions on four Ukrainian officials it accuses of being involved in Russian government-backed activities to destabilize Ukraine.
This came amid a warning from the United States about what to do if Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine. Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine but denies planning an attack. Russian officials are demanding written guarantees that NATO will stop all military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, but members of the alliance refuse to make such promises.
A US Treasury Department press release claims that four Ukrainian officials “played various roles in Russia’s global campaign of influence to destabilize sovereign countries.” The sanctions target two current members of the Ukrainian parliament, Taras Kozak and Oleg Voloshin, as well as two former government officials, Volodymyr Oliynyk and Volodymyr Sivkovich.
All four were involved in a disinformation effort by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to create a pretext for a possible further invasion of Ukraine, according to the US government.
“Russia has used hybrid tactics for years, including disinformation and other influence campaigns, to destabilize Ukraine,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement. “In 2020, Kremlin officials launched a comprehensive information operation plan aimed in part at reducing the ability of the Ukrainian state to function independently; The individuals appointed today have played a key role in this campaign.”
According to the Finance Ministry, Kozak, who controls several news channels in Ukraine, allegedly spread false narratives to denigrate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inner circle and falsely accused him of mismanagement.
Meanwhile, Voloshin allegedly worked with Russian actors to undermine Ukrainian government officials and also allegedly worked with Russian citizen Konstantin Kilimnik, who was previously sanctioned for trying to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the Treasury Department said.
Kozak and Voloshin are members of the political party of Viktor Medvedchuk, the Kremlin’s most prominent ally in Ukraine. Last year, Medvedchuk was put under house arrest in a treason case. Prior to that, in 2014, the United States imposed sanctions against Medvedchuk for his role in undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine.
Sivkovych, who previously served as deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, is accused of working with Russian intelligence activists in influence operations in 2021 to support Ukraine in officially handing over Crimea to Russia in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian-backed forces. Russian troops seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then annexed the Black Sea peninsula.
Oleinik, who fled Ukraine seeking asylum in Russia, allegedly worked with the FSB last year to gather information about Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.
“The United States is taking steps to expose and counter Russia’s dangerous and threatening campaign of influence and disinformation in Ukraine,” U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. “We are determined to take steps to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing actions.”
The sanctions mean that the property and interests of four owned individuals that are in the United States or owned or controlled by American citizens are blocked and must be reported to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). All transactions related to blocked objects or four persons are also prohibited.
The sanctions came less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden said he thought Russia would “go ahead” with Ukraine. Biden also warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay a “heavy price” in lost lives and possible loss of access to the global banking system if that happened.
Republicans and Ukrainian officials have criticized Biden’s comments, saying he may have provoked a limited Russian invasion, telling reporters Wednesday that the United States would respond in a measured manner in the event of a “minor invasion.” Administration officials immediately sought to clarify his remarks, and Biden himself did so on Thursday.
“I have been absolutely candid with President Putin,” Biden said on Thursday. “He has no misunderstanding: any, any assembled Russian units cross the border of Ukraine, this is an invasion.”
Shortly before the announcement of US sanctions, Zelensky tweeted: “We want to remind great powers that there are no small invasions and small nations. Just as there are no small victims and little grief from the loss of loved ones.
Biden said Wednesday that his team is considering possible sanctions against the Russian banking system to limit its ability to “deal in dollars.”
Sen. Janna Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Ukraine last weekend, told reporters Thursday that she understands the administration is still analyzing how other countries will be affected if Russia is banned from SWIFT, the banking system . which controls the flow of money around the world.
Last week, the White House warned that Russia had deployed its operatives in and around Ukraine, possibly to create a pretext for an invasion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.