France has seized a car cargo ship in the English Channel that the United States says was linked to the son of a former Russian spy chief, in one of the first visible displays of the West enforcing sanctions on Russia for its Ukraine invasion.
The US Department of the Treasury has issued blocking sanctions against the vessel, which it said is owned by a subsidiary of Russian lender Promsvyazbank, one of the Russian entities hit by Washington’s sanctions.
The bank’s CEO, Pyotr Fradkov, is the son of Mikhail Fradkov, a former head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, who also served as prime minister under Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pyotr Fradkov was himself included in the latest round of US sanctions.
The Baltic Leader vessel was headed for Saint Petersburg but was diverted to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France between 3am and 4am (02:00 – 03:00 GMT), Captain Veronique Magnin, of the French Maritime Prefecture, told the Reuters news agency.
The vessel was “strongly suspected of being linked to Russian interests targeted by the sanctions”, she said.
Promsvyazbank told Reuters in a statement that its subsidiary no longer owns the Baltic Leader, which was bought by a different entity before the sanctions were imposed.
Magnin, the maritime prefecture spokeswoman, said checks were being carried out by customs officials and the ship’s crew was “being cooperative”.
The US Treasury said Promsvyazbank was put under sanctions “for operating or having operated in the defence and related materiel and financial services sectors of the Russian Federation economy”. It was also targeted by EU sanctions.
Washington sanctioned two of Russia’s state-owned banks – Promsvyazbank and VEB – and blocked them from trading in its debt on US and European markets. The two Russian banks are considered especially close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military, with more than $80bn in assets.
The Russian embassy in Paris said it will send a note of protest to the French foreign ministry against the seizure.
The United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Taiwan and New Zealand unveiled a series of sanctions against Russia targeting banks, oil refineries and military exports.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the United States will impose sanctions on Putin in coordination with the EU.