US sanctions five prominent Russians citing rights abuses

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meeting with his US counterpart, Barack Obama, on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on September 5, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The United States has imposed new sanctions on five prominent Russians, including a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US Treasury Department announced on Monday that the sanctions were meant to punish Russia over what it called human rights abuses.

Under the act named after Russian tax fraud whistleblower Sergey Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail in 2009, the five Russian people will have their US assets blocked and are banned from travelling to the United States.

Chief federal investigator Alexander Bastrykin and two other men, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, who are wanted in the UK for the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko a decade ago, were blacklisted.

Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russian Investigative Committee, waits before an annual state of the nation address attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

Gennady Plaksin, former head of the Universal Savings Bank, and Stanislav Gordiyevsky, former investigative agency official are the other two targets who both are said to be involved in covering up Magnitsky's death.

The figures include those who have played "roles in the repressive machinery of Russia's law enforcement systems, as well as individuals involved in notorious human rights violations," US State Department John Kirby said Monday.

"Each of the most recently added names was considered after extensive research," Kirby added.

The reason why the Magnitsky Act had still not included Putin himself was that Washington does not want a complete breakdown in its ties with Moscow, according to a senior administration official.

"We need to preserve the possibility of working with Russia in areas in which it is in the US national interest," the official told AFP, on condition of anonymity. "This includes pressing for diplomatic solutions to the crises in Syria and eastern Ukraine."

"Our goal in imposing sanctions is to change behavior... We have taken steps to make clear that interference in US democratic processes will not go unanswered."

A Reuters file photo of Andrei Lugovoi (L) and Dmitry Kovtun

Washington expelled 35 Russian diplomats last month over US accusations that Russia influenced the November 8 presidential election in favor of Trump and against his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

US intelligence agencies have claimed that Russians hacked Democratic Party emails to damage Clinton, an allegation Moscow has dismissed.

Trump, who disputed the findings by the US intelligence community, has repeatedly pledged to improve ties with Russia. 

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