US sanctions four Russian-backed Ukrainian citizens for ‘attempting to destabilize the country’

21 January 2022, 01:33 PM

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned four Ukrainian citizens for their alleged participation in Russian-directed actions to destabilize Ukraine, the agency wrote in a press release on Jan. 20.

The list of sanctioned individuals includes Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn (two current Ukrainian MPs from the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life party), Vladimir Sivkovich (the former Deputy Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council), and Volodymyr Oliynyk (a former Ukrainian MP who fled Ukraine to seek refuge in Russia).

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“The individuals designated act at the direction of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence service sanctioned by the United States, and support Russia-directed influence operations against the United States and its allies and partners,” reads the statement.

The Treasury said the four sanctioned individuals had played various roles in Russia’s global influence campaign to destabilize sovereign countries in support of the Kremlin’s political objectives.

Kozak has already been previously sanctioned, though by Ukraine itself. In February 2021, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council imposed restrictions against him, his 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK TV channels, as well as his civil-law wife, Natalia Lavreniuk.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said these sanctions were based on evidence linking Kozak to illegal coal sales from Russian-occupied territory to government-controlled Ukraine. Formal charges of treason were announced against Kozak in May 2021.

Kozak claims that the companies owned by him all work within the framework of Ukrainian law. However, investigative journalists have also linked Kozak to a $50 million sale of an oil company to Russia.

While a warrant has been issued for Kozak’s arrest and some of his property in Ukraine has been confiscated, his current whereabouts are unknown. Investigative journalist Maksym Savchuk of the Skhemy (Schemes) investigation project speculates that Kozak could have fled to Russia.

The press release includes the following allegations about the sanctioned individuals:

• Kozak controls several news channels in Ukraine and has used his news platforms to amplify false narratives around the 2020 U.S. elections, first espoused by the U.S.-sanctioned Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach. The U.S. claims that throughout 2020, Kozak worked alongside FSB intelligence agents and supported the FSB’s plan to denigrate senior members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inner circle, falsely accusing them of mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The United States alleges that Voloshyn worked with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen sanctioned by the United States with ties to Russian intelligence, who was sanctioned for attempts to influence the 2020 U.S.  presidential election. Voloshyn is said to have coordinated passing on information to influence the U.S. elections at the behest of Russia.

• Oliynyk, a former MP, fled Ukraine in 2014 after the Euromaidan revolution to seek refuge in Russia, and currently resides in Moscow. According to the Treasury Department, he reportedly shares Russia’s anti-Western sentiments. In 2021, Oliynyk worked at the behest of the FSB to gather information about critical Ukrainian infrastructure.

• In 2021, the United States said that Sivkovich worked with a network of Russian intelligence actors to carry out influence operations to build support for Ukraine to officially cede Crimea to Russia, in exchange for a drawdown of Russian proxy forces in the Donbas. In early 2020, the Treasury alleges that he coordinated with Russian intelligence services to promote Derkach’s disinformation campaign against the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

The Opposition Platform - For Life party, which is largely seen as pro-Russian and which developed out of the discredited Party of Regions following the self-exile of fugitive former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, has already reacted to the sanctions, calling them “the result of close communication and personal agreements between (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky and representatives of the United States.” The party said that the sanctions against its members “demonstrate who are the real opponents of Ukraine’s external rule.”

“The government of Zelensky, having demonstrated deceit, inconsistency and unfoundedness in fabricating accusations against political opponents, is cowardly begging for help and protection from its Western masters,” the party wrote on its website on Jan. 20.

The Opposition Platform’s current leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, is currently under house arrest in Ukraine and facing charges of treason. Russian President Vladimir Putin is godfather to one of Medvedchuk’s daughters.

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Derkach came under U.S. sanctions in Sept. 2020. He has been linked to Russian intelligence, and the United States alleges that has been an active Russian agent for more than a decade. He remains a Ukrainian MP as an independent.

Derkach drew particular enmity from the United States when, in the midst of the 2020 U.S. presidential race, he released portions of a taped phone call that he claimed demonstrated corruption between former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and former Vice President and incumbent U.S. President Joe Biden.

The recordings were not shown to indicate corruption between the two politicians, and largely corresponded to Biden’s then-recollection of his activities in Ukraine.

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