The Trump administration levied additional sanctions Thursday on Russia for human rights abuses and illegal economic activity in Crimea, just days before President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin head to Paris for a gathering of world leaders.
The move is another example of the Trump administration’s willingness to at times be tougher on Russia than the president’s rhetoric suggests. Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Putin, even as Congress passed a bill last year to punish Russia for its involvement in the 2016 election and its invasion of Crimea.
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Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, bringing the warm-water region of Crimea under de facto Russian control. The United States and European Union continue to recognize the peninsula as part of Ukraine.
Thursday’s sanctions target three individuals and nine entities for supporting efforts to economically integrate Crimea into Russia or for human rights violations. One of the entities is the Ministry of State Security of the Luhansk People’s Republic, an unrecognized breakaway state from Ukraine that is under Kremlin influence. The ministry has engaged in intimidation tactics in its prisons including threatening severe violence and rape, as well as persecuting members of Jehovah’s Witness, a Treasury statement said.
The sanctions also list Andriy Volodymyrovych Sushko, an agent of the FSB, the heir secret service agency to the KGB, for choking, beating and using electric shocks on a Crimean Tatar activist. Other entities include corporations operating in Crimea and selling Ukrainian state assets to private individuals who are sympathetic to Russia.
“Treasury remains committed to targeting Russian-backed entities that seek to profit from Russia’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea. Our sanctions are a clear reminder that efforts seeking to normalize investment and economic relationships with those operating in Crimea will not be tolerated and are subject to U.S. and EU sanctions authorities,” Sigal Mandelker, treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a news release.
The administration also imposed sanctions on Russia earlier this year for meddling in the 2016 presidential election and over the attempted murder by poisoning of a former KGB spy in London. Moscow has denied involvement in the poisoning and the 2016 election interference.
Trump and Putin both agreed to attend the memorial services in Paris this weekend for the anniversary of the end of World War I, and observers wonder if it will be another stark buddy-buddy moment akin to their Helsinki summit this summer. During the Finland meeting, Trump seemed to clear Putin of any blame for interfering in the 2016 elections, going solely off of Putin’s word — despite reports from his own intelligence community that Russia had an active role in influencing the elections.
It’s unclear if Trump and Putin will carve out time to have another one-on-one in Paris, but it will be hard for the two to miss each other during the gathering of world leaders. The Kremlin announced this week the two would have a working lunch, but Trump said at a news conference Wednesday that the two will not meet until later in the month at an upcoming G20 Summit in Argentina.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow that the French government hopes the two world leaders won’t break off from the rest of the group so as not to overshadow the commemorative events, The New York Times reported.