WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday (Jan 20) imposed sanctions on current and former Ukrainian officials it accused of engaging in activities directed by Moscow to destabilise Ukraine as Washington warned it was prepared to take fresh action if Russia launches an invasion into the former Soviet country.
Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine, and Western states fear Moscow is planning a new assault on the country. Russia denies it is planning an attack, but says it could take unspecified military action if a list of demands is not met, including a promise from NATO never to admit Kyiv as a member.
"We're not waiting to counter Russia with these actions, we're taking steps now to do so. This demonstrates that we stand with the Ukrainian government in seeking to identify, expose and to undercut Russia's destabilization efforts inside Ukraine," a senior US administration official told reporters.
The United States targeted two members of the Ukrainian parliament, Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn, as well as former officials Volodymyr Oliynyk and Vladimir Sivkovich, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
The Treasury said those designated act at the direction of Russia's FSB security service and have played roles in Russia's campaign to destabilize sovereign countries, including the United States, in support of the Kremlin.
Kozak controls news channels in Ukraine and supported the FSB’s plans to denigrate senior members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's inner circle and falsely accused him of mismanagement, the Treasury said.
Thursday's action was the latest by Washington to target purveyors of Russian disinformation and interference, a second senior US administration official said.
"They come in addition to a range of sanctions we are prepared to take with allies and partners to impose severe costs on Russia and its economy if it were to further invade Ukraine in the future," the official said.
Asked if the United States was planning to target Russia's participation in the SWIFT financial system if Moscow invades Ukraine, one official said, "We have not taken any options off the table."
Western countries insisted on Thursday they would be unified in responding strongly to any Russian assault on Ukraine, shifting into damage control after US President Joe Biden suggested divisions about how to react to a "minor incursion."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Germany on Thursday, meeting French, British and German ministers ahead of talks in Geneva on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.