US, EU slap new sanctions on Russia over Ukraine

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Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels, capturing two dozen sailors near the Kerch Strait last November as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea

Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels, capturing two dozen sailors near the Kerch Strait last November as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea (AFP Photo/STR)

Washington (AFP) - The United States, in coordination with the European Union and Canada, Friday slapped new sanctions on more than a dozen officials and businesses in response to Russia's "continued aggression in Ukraine."

Six Russian officials, six defense firms and two energy and construction firms were targeted, either over the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Straight, or for their activities in Russian-annexed Crimea or separatist eastern Ukraine, a US Treasury statement said.

"The United States and our transatlantic partners will not allow Russia's continued aggression against Ukraine to go unchecked," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was quoted as saying.

The US sanctions freeze all property and interests in property belonging to the designated individuals and entities, and prohibit US persons from transacting with them.

Four of the individuals are border guard or coast guard officials, singled out for their role in a November 25, 2018 naval confrontation, in which Russian ships fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels in the narrow Kerch Strait the two countries share.

The four were targeted jointly with the EU and Canada according to the State Department.

Twenty-four Ukrainian crew members were detained in the naval incident.

"We call upon Russia to immediately return to Ukraine the seized vessels and detained crewmembers, and keep the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov open to ships transiting to and from Ukrainian ports," added State Department spokesman Robert Palladino in a statement.

"We also call on Russia to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, including its territorial waters."

The United States additionally imposed sanctions on two Ukrainian separatists -- Aleksey Naydenko and Vladimir Vysotsky -- involved in organizing November elections in the breakaway east, which Washington says were a "sham."

The six defense firms were targeted over their operations in Russian-annexed Crimea, where the United States says several "misappropriated Ukrainian state assets to provide services to the Russian military."

Among them are Russian shipbuilding giant Zelenodolsk, the hydroacoustic equipment producer Okeanpribor, a diesel engine supplier to the Russian military, Zvezda, and an electronic parts supplier to the military, Fiolent.

Foreign affairs committee chair in the upper house of the Russian parliament, Konstantin Kosachev, denounced the sanctions on Facebook:

"The scheme worked: provocation -- reaction -- sanctions. This means that Kiev can now easily provoke as many Western sanctions as it wants," he wrote.