WASHINGTON – The United States has levied new sanctions against more Russians for Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, hitting well-connected insiders, including the man known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chef. The updated list, announced on December 20 by the Treasury Department, includes seven Russians and more than three dozen companies in Russia and Crimea.
The names added to the Specially Designated Nationals List include Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman whose company has provided catering to the Kremlin.
“These targeted sanctions 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,” John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
The announcement triggered an angry response from Moscow, where Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the fresh sanctions a “hostile move” and warned that Russia would retaliate. “We will be expanding our lists, we will see how we can respond asymmetrically,” the state-run TASS news agency quoted Mr. Ryabkov as saying.
Mr. Prigozhin has been dubbed “Putin’s chef” thanks to major state catering contracts his firms have secured with the Kremlin and elsewhere. He has also been linked to a notorious “troll factory” that paid Russians to post anonymous comments to news sites, social media networks, and blogs in an effort to bolster Kremlin policies.
The Treasury announcement said Mr. Prigozhin had provided financial, material and technological support for senior Russian defense officials, and has had extensive business with the Defense Ministry. That includes a company linked to him that has a contract to build a military base near the Russian border with Ukraine, the department said. “Russia has been building additional military bases near the Ukrainian border and has used these bases as staging points for deploying soldiers into Ukraine,” the announcement said.
News reports have also linked Mr. Prigozhin’s employees to a shadowy private military contractor called ChVK Vagner. Mercenary groups like Vagner and other private contractors are believed to have played an increasingly important role in Russian foreign policy in recent years, particularly in Ukraine and Syria.
The groups operate in close coordination with formal Russian military units, such as the country’s lead military intelligence organization, known as GRU. But because they are not formally part of the Russian armed forces, it has been harder for reporters, investigators, and analysts to track casualties, financial flows, and other details.
Earlier this month, the Russian believed to be the head of the Vagner mercenary group was spotted at an exclusive Kremlin awards ceremony – a clear indication, many observers said, of Moscow’s embrace of such groups.
Other newly sanctioned individuals include executives with current or previous ties to Bank Rossiya, which the Treasury Department previously sanctioned and called the “personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.” The current chairman of the bank’s board, Dmitry Lebedev, is among those included on the new list.
“These targeted sanctions 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,” Mr. Smith of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
Several subsidiaries of natural gas giant Novatek were added to the sanctions list. The parent company itself, which is Russia’s largest independent gas producer, was included in the original sanctions list issued by the United States in 2014.
Fourteen other companies added are subsidiaries of Russian Agricultural Bank, а government-owned bank whose president is Dmitry Patrushev. His father, Nikolai Patrushev, is the head of Putin’s Security Council. Russian Agricultural Bank was also included in the original sanctions list in 2014.
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