The USA sanctioned four Ukrainian executives on Thursday, accusing them of being involved in Russian-backed destabilization efforts against Ukraine.
It comes as the US has threatened to retaliate if Russia infiltrates Ukraine.
Russia amassed a force of 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, but denies preparing an offensive.
Russian officials have demanded written assurances from NATO that it will cease all military activities in East Europe and Ukraine.
However, the alliance’s countries have declined to grant such guarantees.
The US Treasury claims that four administration officials “played varied roles in Russia’s worldwide influence efforts to undermine sovereign nations,” according to a press statement.
Two existing members of Ukraine’s legislature, Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn, and two former government leaders, Volodymyr Oliynyk as well as Vladimir Sivkovich, are named in the penalties.
Stephanopoulos to Blinken on meeting with the Russians: "What did you achieve specifically?"
Blinken: "George, we didn't anticipate…any breakthroughs…[W]hat we were doing was…see[ing] whether there's…a path forward for diplomacy…to resolve a crisis…Russia…created" pic.twitter.com/t16l6xhtMj
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) January 21, 2022
According to the US government, all four were engaged in disinformation operations by Russia’s federal security service (FSB) to create a pretext for a potential new war with Ukraine.
“Russia has employed hybrid methods to undermine Ukraine for ages, including misinformation and other impact activities,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a release.
“In 2020, Kremlin authorities initiated a thorough media operation strategy aimed at undermining Ukraine’s ability to function freely; the people named today played major roles in that operation.”
As per the Treasury, Kozak, who owns multiple Ukrainian news stations, reportedly reinforced fake stories to disparage Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s close sanctum and start accusing him of incompetence.
However, according to the Treasury, Voloshyn reportedly collaborated with Russian actors to destabilize Ukrainian government leaders, as well as with Russian citizen Konstantin Kilimnik.
Kozak and Voloshyn are supporters of Viktor Medvedchuk’s political group, which is the Kremlin’s greatest powerful partner in Ukraine.
In a treason charge, Medvedchuk was arrested and imprisoned last year. Medvedchuk got sanctioned by the US in 2014 for his participation in subverting Ukrainian sovereignty.
The Depth of the Infiltration
Sivkovich formerly served as Ukraine’s deputy chairman for national defense and security committees.
He is now accused of conspiring with Russian military operatives in 2021 to persuade Ukraine to formally transfer Crimea to Russia, in return for the withdrawal of Russian-backed troops.
In 2014, Russian troops invaded Crimea from Ukraine and occupied the Black Sea region.
If Putin escalates his war against Ukraine, the biggest losers will be Ukrainians. But the second-biggest losers will be Russian citizens. Russians will die. For what? To repel a fictitious, abstract "NATO threat"? Or even more absurd, a "Ukrainian threat"? 1/
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) January 13, 2022
Oliynyk, who escaped Ukraine to Russia last year, is accused of collaborating with the FSB to obtain data on Ukraine’s vital infrastructure.
In a release, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo explained, “The United States is taking measures to uncover and combat Russia’s reckless and frightening campaign of manipulation and misinformation in Ukraine.”
“We are dedicated to holding Russia responsible for their destabilizing activities.”
The penalties mean the four people’s assets and holdings of property in the United States, or in the possession and control of Americans, are frozen and must be disclosed to the Treasury Department’s Foreign Assets Control.
All transactions involving the four people or the four assets that have been blacklisted are also prohibited.