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US imposes additional sanctions on Russia

Washington, April 28: The US today imposed additional sanctions against Russian government officials and companies deemed close to President Vladimir V. Putin, accusing Moscow of failing to live up to its agreement to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

The Barack Obama administration ordered travel bans and asset freezes for seven Russian officials, including two said to be in Putin’s inner circle, and froze assets for 17 companies. Thirteen Russian companies will face additional restrictions as the government will cut off the export or re-export of American-made products to them.

Additionally, the state and commerce departments announced a new policy to deny export licence applications for high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities. The two departments will revoke existing export licences along those lines, the White House said in a statement. The European Union plans to follow with sanctions on 15 Russians, officials said.

Among those targeted today was Igor I. Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft oil company and a longtime Putin adviser. Although administration officials said over the weekend that they also expected Aleksei B. Miller, the head of the energy giant Gazprom, to be targeted, Obama ultimately chose a list that did not include him.

Others who face sanctions include Dmitri N. Kozak, a deputy Prime Minister; Vyacheslav V. Volodin, a deputy chief of staff to Putin; and Aleksei Pushkov, the chairman of the international affairs committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament.

The companies targeted included several banks, including Sobinbank, and energy companies like the Stroytransgaz Group and various related entities.

Stroytransgaz and its related companies form the pipeline construction arm of Gazprom that maintains and expands the Russian domestic natural gas pipeline network, the world’s largest gas pipeline system, and for years the companies have been the focus of suspicion by financial analysts that they are used to siphon money from Gazprom to insiders.

Gazprom’s capital expenditures totalled about $24.4 billion in 2013, according to a company statement. The Stroytransgaz companies were initially affiliated with the 1990s-era management of Gazprom, but later shifted to the control of longtime associates of Putin, including the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg.

In imposing sanctions on Sechin, the administration has targeted a top partner of ExxonMobil, which has multiple joint ventures with Rosneft. It is not known if Sechin has any assets in the US to freeze, but he will no longer be permitted into the country to consult with his ExxonMobil partners.

ExxonMobil lawyers have been studying the possible ramifications in anticipation of the administration move, but a company spokesman today that it had no comment.

The firms targeted on Monday were all tied to Russian businessmen who were targeted in previous rounds of sanctions. Eleven of the companies were linked to Gennady N. Timchenko, including the Volga Group, his private investment holding company. Timchenko is a co-founder of the Gunvor Group, a commodities trading firm in which the Treasury Department has previously said Putin has personal investments.

Gunvor has adamantly denied that Putin has any financial ties to the company, and Timchenko has sold his shares in Gunvor.

Three other firms targeted on Monday were tied to Arkady and Boris Rotenberg: InvestCapitalBank, SMP Bank and Stroygazmontazh. Three others were subsidiaries of Yuri V. Kovalchuk’s Bank Rossyia: Abros, Zest and Sobinbank.

 
 
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