The US Treasury Department levied new sanctions Thursday against four Ukrainian officials, including two current members of parliament who administration officials say are part of a Russian influence effort to set the pretext for further invasion of Ukraine.
The sanctions name parliamentarians Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn and two former government officials. According to Treasury, all four have been intimately involved in disinformation efforts by Russia’s federal security service, known as the FSB.
The new sanctions were announced less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden said he thinks Moscow will newly invade Ukraine. He warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible restrictions in access to the global banking system if it does.
Biden faced criticism from Republicans and Ukrainian officials that he invited a limited Russian invasion by suggesting in comments to reporters on Wednesday that the US would react with a measured response if there was only a “minor incursion” of Ukrainian territory. Administration officials sought to clarify his remarks late Wednesday and Thursday.
The White House last week warned that Russia has stationed operatives in and around Ukraine possibly to create pretext for an invasion. U.S. and Ukrainian officials have also been concerned about the Russian weaponizing of disinformation.
“The United States is taking action to expose and counter Russia’s dangerous and threatening campaign of influence and disinformation in Ukraine,” said Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. “We are committed to taking steps to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing actions.”
Kozak, who controls several news channels in Ukraine, is accused of amplifying false narratives about Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s inner circle and the 2020 elections. Voloshyn has worked with Russia's FSB to undermine Ukrainian government officials, Treasury says.
Treasury officials say Voloshyn also worked with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who was previously sanctioned for allegedly attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election and passing on information to Russian intelligence.
Treasury also sanctioned Ukraine’s former deputy secretary for national security and defense councils, Vladimir Sivkovich. The administration says Sivkovich worked last year with a network of Russian intelligence activists to carry out influence operations that attempted to build support for Ukraine to officially cede Crimea to Russia in exchange for a drawdown of Russian backed forces. Russian troops seized Crimea in 2014 and continues to occupy the Black Sea peninsula.
The other former official cited is Volodymyr Oliynyk, who Treasury says worked at the direction of the FSB to gather information about Ukrainian critical infrastructure. Oliynk is currently living in Russia, according to Treasury.
After Biden speculated about a “minor incursion” by Russia, top administration officials underscored that any invasion would be seen as violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and would result in severe consequences for Russia.
Nevertheless, the comments have rattled Kyiv and hinted at Biden’s challenge of keeping the United States and its NATO allies united in their response to Russia.
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Zelenskyy tweeted Thursday shortly before the new sanctions were announced. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
Some 100,000 Russian troops have massed near the Ukraine border. Russian officials are demanding written guarantees that NATO will not expand westward. Members of the alliance refuse to give such a pledge.