The Trump administration announced additional sanctions against Russia Thursday over its ongoing occupation of Crimea and its interference in eastern Ukraine.
The Wednesday announcement comes in the lead-up to a high level meeting in Paris where President Donald Trump could cross paths with Russia President Vladimir Putin. And it comes a day after Trump appeared to blame his predecessor for Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea. "It was President Obama that allowed it to happen," Trump insisted.
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Trump is also slated to meet with Putin at a meeting of G20 countries in Argentina that commences on November 30.
The Treasury Department announced sanctions against two individuals and one entity for "serious human rights abuses" and sanctions on another eight entities and one individual responsible for advancing Russian interests in Crimea.
One of these eight entities is also being designated for being owned or controlled by, directly or indirectly, Bank Rossiya and Yuri Valentinovich Kovalchuk, who was previously sanctioned.
Human rights abuses
The Crimea-related actions reinforce the July 25 Crimea Declaration stating that the United States does not and will not recognize Russia's purported annexation of Crimea, the Treasury said.
"The United States is leveraging new authorities to target Russian actors for serious human rights abuses in parts of Ukraine that the United States government has determined are forcibly occupied or otherwise controlled by the Russian government, and other reprehensible acts in furtherance of the Kremlin's malign agenda," said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
"Treasury remains committed to targeting Russian-backed entities that seek to profit from Russia's illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea," Mandelker said. "Our sanctions are a clear reminder that efforts seeking to normalize investment and economic relationships with those operating in Crimea will not be tolerated and are subject to US and EU sanctions authorities."
The newly announced sanctions "appear to be a continuing 'maintenance round' under existing sanctions authorities," said Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center.
"That said, this is not unimportant," Rojansky added. "It underscores the administration's continuing will to use sanctions authority to pressure Russia and its proxies. That sends a very clear message to Moscow in advance of the expected Trump-Putin summit in Argentina and to Congress at a key moment following the midterm elections."
"There should be no doubt that Treasury and State will continue with these rounds of sanctions even if the administration pursued improved dialogue with Russia on issues like arms control and Syria," Rojansky said.
Trump blamed Obama for annexation
The announcement comes a day after Trump insisted former President Barack Obama is to blame for Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Asked about a possible upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump referred to his July summit in Helsinki with the Russian leader.
"I had a very, very good meeting -- a very, very good meeting with President Putin, and a lot was discussed about security, about Syria, about Ukraine, about the fact that President Obama allowed a very large part of Ukraine to be taken," Trump said.
When the reporter pointed out that "was President Putin who annexed Crimea, sir," Trump insisted on his version of history.
"That was President Obama's regime. That was during President Obama. Right?" Trump said. "That was not during me. No, that was President Obama."
"But it was President Putin who did the annexation," the reporter said.
"No, no. It was President Obama that allowed it to happen," Trump said. "It had nothing to do with me."