US sanctions four Ukrainians accused of working for Russia

Biden administration targets Ukrainian nationals, including two lawmakers, it accuses of working to destabilise country.

Russian armoured vehicles
Fresh sanctions come amid a diplomatic push between the US and Russia, which are seeking to defuse growing tensions over a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine [File: AP Photo]

The United States has imposed sanctions on four Ukrainian nationals, including two lawmakers, accusing them of working on behalf of Russian intelligence services to “destabilize” Ukraine in advance of a possible Russian invasion of the country.

Washington announced the measures on Thursday, promising to coordinate with Kyiv to “identify, expose and impose costs” on Ukrainians working at the direction of Moscow.

The US sanctions targeted Taras Kozak and Oleg Voloshyn, two current members of the Ukrainian parliament, as well as Vladimir Sivkovich and Volodymyr Oliynyk, two former officials.

“This action is intended to target, highlight, and undercut Russia’s ongoing destabilization effort in Ukraine,” the Department of State said in a statement.

“It is separate and distinct from the broad range of high impact measures the United States and its allies and partners are prepared to impose in order to inflict significant costs on the Russian economy and financial system if it were to further invade Ukraine.”

The Biden administration refers to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “further invasion” because Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly thereafter supported a separatist rebellion in the country’s east.

The Russian military has been amassing troops near the country’s border with Ukraine, sparking US and European fears that Russia may be preparing for an imminent invasion of its neighbour.

Washington has warned Moscow of “massive consequences” if it goes through with an incursion.

Russia has denied that it is planning to invade Ukraine, but it has vehemently opposed the country’s efforts to join NATO. Moscow is seeking security guarantees that the US-led military alliance will halt its eastward expansion into former Soviet republics – a demand Washington has rejected as a “non-starter”.

Talks between US and Russian officials and separate negotiations between Russia and NATO earlier this month failed to resolve the impasse. US officials have said they are continuing to seek diplomacy with Russia to end the crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. Blinken warned on Thursday that any “new acts of aggression” from Russia towards Ukraine would meet a “swift, severe, united response” from the US and its partners.

Meanwhile, in its own statement on Thursday’s sanctions, the US Treasury accused Kozak – one of the two current members of Ukraine’s parliament – of spreading disinformation through several news channels that he controls in Ukraine.

It said Voloshyn “worked with Russian actors to undermine Ukrainian government officials and advocate on behalf of Russia” and accused Oliynyk of gathering information on critical infrastructure in Ukraine on behalf of Russia.

For his part, Sivkovich “worked with a network of Russian intelligence actors to carry out influence operations”, including efforts to get Kyiv to officially cede Crimea to Moscow, the US Treasury alleged.

The sanctions freeze the targeted individuals’ assets in the US and make it a potential crime for American citizens to do business with them.

Kozak and Voloshyn are members of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform – For Life (OPFL) party, which reacted to the measures, accusing the US of “international political terror”.

“The OPFL states that sanctions and biased criminal cases against the representatives of our party directed at obstructing the lawmaking activity are an act of international political terror conducted on the orders of the criminal Ukrainian government,” the statement published on Thursday on the party’s website said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies