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U.S. sanctions companies, people over Russia actions in Ukraine

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON The United States on Tuesday blacklisted seven Russian businessmen and eight companies and government enterprises over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement, moves Moscow called “hostile acts.”

The sanctions come a month before U.S. President Barack Obama hands over power to President-elect Donald Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and said it would be good if the two countries could get along.

Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson, has opposed U.S. sanctions on Russia, which awarded him a friendship medal in 2013.

In Tuesday’s statement, the U.S. Treasury named seven Russian men, six of whom it said were executives at Bank Rossiya or its affiliates ABR Management and Sobinbank. Bank Rossiya and Sobinbank were sanctioned in 2014, and ABR Management was sanctioned in 2016.

The seventh man, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, has “extensive business dealings” with the Russian defence ministry, Treasury said.

The U.S. actions bar American individuals or companies from dealing with the sanctioned people or companies.

In addition, Treasury named 26 subsidiaries of Russian Agricultural Bank and gas producer Novatek (NVTK.MM), both of which had already been sanctioned in 2014. U.S. sanctions on those companies are relatively narrow, and prohibit Americans from dealing in certain kinds of debt with them.

Novatek is Russia’s largest non-state gas producer. Its chief executive and major shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, one of Russia’s richest men.

“Today’s action is in response to Russia’s unlawful occupation of Crimea and continued aggression in Ukraine,” John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.

“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.”

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told TASS news agency that the sanctions were hostile acts by the outgoing Obama administration and Russia would expand its sanctions lists against the United States in response.

“We retain the right to choose the time, place and form pf our responsive actions in a way that suits us,” Ryabkov told TASS.

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, told a news conference on Tuesday that Trump’s forthcoming arrival in the White House promised to create the conditions for better U.S.-Russia relations.

Commenting on what she referred to as “anti-Russian sanctions,” Matviyenko, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, she was sure that Western sanctions would be eased or lifted altogether in 2017.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by David Gregorio, Yara Bayoumy and Lisa Shumaker)