The Obama administration Monday added five more Russians, including a senior government official who is an underling of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to a list of people who are banned from traveling to the United States and subject to asset freezes for alleged human rights abuses.
The sanctions were imposed under a 2012 law passed by Congress and named for Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and whistleblower who revealed tax fraud by Russian officials and died after spending a year in pretrial detention. The U.S. law requires sanctions against anyone who took part in Magnitsky’s abuse and death or a subsequent coverup. It also provides for sanctions against people who took part in torture or other human rights abuses in other cases.
The five names bring to 44 the number of people hit with sanctions under the Magnitsky Act. They are not allowed to obtain U.S. visas, and Americans are not permitted to have dealings with them. The freezing of their assets applies to American banks, but because most international transactions are conducted in U.S. dollars, that in effect allows banks to seize any money the people on the list may try to wire.
The highest-profile name on the list is Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the federal Investigative Committee, the Russian equivalent of the FBI. He is suspected of participating in a coverup of Magnitsky’s torture and death. He also has been implicated in several other human rights abuses. When a Russian journalist wrote a story accusing Bastrykin of covering up a mass murder, Bastrykin threatened to behead and dismember the reporter, according to an open letter written by the reporter’s editor.
“You can call him Putin’s chief enforcer,” said Tom Malinowski, assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
The sanctions were imposed just three days after U.S. intelligence officials made public an assessment that Putin had directed the hacking of Democratic emails in an effort to sabotage the U.S. presidential election. But Malinowski said the timing is coincidental. The State and Treasury departments add new names to the list around this time every year.
President-elect Donald Trump has said that when he takes office, in less than two weeks, he plans to work toward forging a warmer working relationship with Putin. One of the choices he will face is whether to ease sanctions related to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Sanctions under the Magnitsky law are difficult to lift, however.
“These were done pursuant to the law, which tells us if a particular person meets the criteria by virtue of having committed gross human rights abuses, he must be sanctioned,” Malinowski said. “The United States government has now determined these people meet that criteria. It would be quite hard to reverse that factual judgment.”
Two low-level Russian officials, Stanislav Gordievsky and Gennady Plaksin, were also blacklisted for allegedly playing a role in covering up Magnitsky’s death.
Also hit with sanctions were Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the lower house of the Russian parliament, and Dmitri Kovtun. British investigators have accused the two men of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of the Kremlin, by putting radioactive polonium in his tea at a London hotel in 2006.