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US imposes sanctions against Russian oligarchs and government officials

By Donna Borak, CNN

(CNN) -- The Trump administration is unleashing additional sanctions against seven Russian oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin along with 12 companies they own or control.

The measures announced by the Treasury Department on Friday were also aimed at 17 senior Russian government officials and the state-owned Russian weapons trading company, Rosoboronexport, which has long-standing ties to Syria and its subsidiary, Russian Financial Corporation Bank.

The punitive actions are the latest escalating step by the US to punish Putin's inner circle for interfering in the 2016 election and other ongoing aggressions across the globe in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria.

The White House said such targeted sanctions would help to ensure that Russian oligarchs profiting from the Kremlin's destabilizing activities, including its interference of Western democratic elections in 2016 and 2017, would face consequences for their actions.

"We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful," President Donald Trump said in a statement released by the White House.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cited Russia's occupation in Crimea and its ongoing efforts to supply the Assad regime in Syria with materials and weapons in a statement announcing the sanctions.

A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing the sanctions had been under review for some time but were not imposed solely in response to a single event. Rather they were "in response to the totality of the Russian government's ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity around the world."

Friday's sanctions list targets a number of Russian tycoons, including Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire who once had close ties to Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Kirill Shamalov, an energy executive who married Putin's daughter; and Suleiman Kerimov, who allegedly brought millions of euros into France in suitcases.

The move comes after 60 American diplomats left Russia as part of tit-for-tat series of expulsions following the poisoning of a Russian spy and his daughter in Britain, allegedly at the hands of the Kremlin. The US joined more than 20 countries expelling more than 100 Russian diplomats and intelligence officers.

While Russia has denied any involvement, the attack is seen by both the US and key allies as part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive action by Putin, which has included military interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, ongoing support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and interference in the democratic elections in the US and Europe.

Trump's outgoing national security H.R. McMaster used his final public remarks before retiring Tuesday to publicly call for a tougher line on Russia. "We have failed to impose sufficient costs," he said Tuesday during a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

While Trump has continued to press for good relations with Russia, Congress and the rest of the administrations have pursued efforts to punish the Kremlin.

So far, the administration has sanctioned 189 Russian related individuals and entities under various programs, according to the senior administration official.

In January, the US identified more than 200 wealthy Russians, top officials and business leaders in response to a sanctions law passed by Congress last summer to punish Russia for interfering in US elections. Months later in March the administration slapped sanctions on Russian government hackers and spy agencies, including people named in FBI Robert Mueller's indictment.

The 17 senior Russian officials whose assets will be frozen include Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Federation Security Council; Vladimir Kolokoltsev, minister of internal affairs and general police of the Russian Federation; and Evgeniy Shkolov, an aide to Putin.

Among the companies targeted by the US include GAZ Group, Russia's leading manufacturer of commercial vehicles owned by Deripaska, and Russian Machines and Renova Group, which is comprised of investment funds and management companies operating in the energy sector in Russia.

Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday saying it would provide a "harsh response" to sanctions

"Washington continues to frighten with the rejection of American visas (and) threaten Russian business with freezing property and financial assets, forgetting that the seizure of private property and other people's money is called robbery," the statement said.

The statement added the "language of sanctions" would not work with Russia.

"We would like to advise Washington to get rid of illusions that we can be spoken to with the language of sanctions," the statement continued.

The Russian Embassy in the United States also issued a statement Friday criticizing the sanctions.

"Washington once again struck at the Russian-American relations, now the captains of Russian business who refused to play by the Washington scenario got under the sanctions," it said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. "The US made another erroneous step to destroy the freedom of entrepreneurship and competition, integration processes in the global economy."

The statement went on to say the US had a "desire to split" Russian society, which "will not work," adding "under the external pressure, the country has always united around its leader. The recent elections of the President of Russia have demonstrated the support of the overwhelming majority of the Russian people to Vladimir Putin."

A spokesman for Rosoboronexport called the latest US sanctions a "pure form of unfair competition," Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Council of the Federation Committee on Foreign Affairs who was also named in Friday's sanctions list, called the US announcement "another unjustified, unfriendly and meaningless step," state-run media RIA-Novosti reported.

"This is an attempt to use the tools (sanctions) to justify the absence of a real strategy and justify the alleged legitimacy of its actions against Russia. This is the way to nowhere. Russia cannot be frightened by it and especially cannot be broken by it," Kosachev said.

Oleg Deripaska described the US decision as "groundless, ridiculous and absurd."

"The events this morning are very unfortunate but not unexpected," Deripaska said in a statement provided to CNN by a spokesperson for Basic Element, one of his businesses.

"Certainly the grounds for putting my name on the list of SDNs as provided by US officials are groundless, ridiculous and absurd," the statement said. "I am preparing to celebrate Russian Orthodox Easter on Sunday and will then analyze the emerging situation with our lawyers early next week and provide some comments."

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