According to the US Treasury statement (March 2019), the United States, in coordination with Canada and the European Union, has slapped new sanctions on more than a dozen Russian officials and businesses, citing Moscow’s “continued aggression in Ukraine. Six Russian officials, six defence firms and two energy and construction firms were targeted, either over the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait, or for their activities in Russian-annexed Crimea or separatist eastern Ukraine. Measures target Russian officials over Moscow’s actions against Ukraine, including 2018 naval clash in the Kerch Strait. These countries and EU have shared commitment to impose targeted and meaningful sanctions in response to the Kremlin’s attempts to disregard international norms and undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The US sanctions freeze all property and interests in property belonging to the designated individuals and entities, and prohibits US persons from transacting with them. Four of the individuals are border guard or coastguard officials, singled out for their role in a November 25, 2018, naval confrontation, in which Russian ships fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels in the narrow Kerch Strait linking the Black and Azov seas near Crimea. The Russian navy captured 24 Ukrainian sailors during the clash. Canada imposed sanctions on 114 people and 15 entities in response to Russia’s military action against the Ukrainian ships, while the EU sanctioned eight more Russians over the standoff.
The decision takes the number of people blacklisted by the bloc over the crisis in Ukraine to 170 persons and 44 entities. The EU said its sanctions affected senior security service officials and military commanders accused of preventing Ukrainian ships from reaching port. The US also imposed sanctions on two Ukrainian separatists – Aleksey Naydenko and Vladimir Vysotsky – involved in organising November elections in the breakaway east, which Washington says were a “sham”. The six defence firms were targeted over their operations in Crimea, where the US says several “misappropriated Ukrainian state assets to provide services to the Russian military”. Among them are Russian shipbuilding giant Zelenodolsk, the hydroacoustic equipment producer Okeanpribor, a diesel engine supplier to the Russian military, Zvezda, and an electronic parts supplier to the military, Fiolent.
Meanwhile, the US, Canada and the EU again pressed for Moscow to release the detained Ukrainian crew. Canada and its allies expressed their unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, said that Russia’s provocations in the Kerch Strait and its illegal invasion and ongoing occupation of Crimea will not go unchecked. Robert Palladino, a spokesman for the US State Department, called on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They called upon Russia to immediately return to Ukraine the seized vessels and arrested crew members, and keep the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov open to ships transiting to and from Ukrainian ports.
Meanwhile, Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska sued the US alleging that it had overstepped its legal bounds in imposing sanctions on his companies for political reasons. The billionaire was slapped with sanctions in April last year, which targeted tycoons with close ties to the Kremlin. In a legal filing, Deripaska asked the US District Court in Washington to block the US Treasury Department from using the “devastating power” of such economic sanctions. He claimed his net worth has dropped by $7.5bn because of the measures.
A prolonged crisis in Ukraine began on 21 November 2013 when then-president Viktor Yanukovych suspended preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union. The decision sparked mass protests from the proponents of the agreement. The protests, in turn, precipitated a revolution that led to Yanukovych’s ousting. After the ousting, unrest enveloped in the largely Russophone eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, from where Yanukovych had drawn most of his support. Subsequently, an ensuing political crisis developed after Russia invaded said regions and annexed the then-autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea. As Russia’s invasion emboldened the Russophone Ukrainians already in upheaval, the unrest in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts devolved into a subnational war against the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government. Then, as that conflict progressed, the Russophone Ukrainian opposition turned into a pro-Russian insurgency often supported and assisted by the Russian military and its special forces.