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US imposes sanctions over Russia rights abuses despite revived ties

US imposes sanctions over Russia rights abuses despite revived ties

The United States imposed sanctions on five Russians over abuses including the killing of a prominent opposition leader, days after top-level talks seemed to ease tensions between the two powers. The State Department highlighted the actions against the five people, plus one legal entity, as it submitted an annual report required by Congress on actions taken under a law on human rights in Russia.

The law, which blocks any US assets of blacklisted people and bars them from travelling to the United States, is named after Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption accountant who died in Russian custody in 2009. Among the five newly blacklisted figures are Ruslan Geremeyev, an interior ministry official in the restive North Caucasus region of Chechnya who is close to its leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

On his Telegram account, Kadyrov said the sanctions, were “clear proof that the United States is afraid of us.” Geremeyev has faced accusations of involvement in the 2015 killing in central Moscow of Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who became a leading critic of President Vladimir Putin. The US Treasury Department said Russian investigators twice tried but were blocked from bringing charges against Geremeyev as the possible organizer of the killing of Nemtsov – the most high-profile assassinaton of a dissident since Putin rose to power two decades ago.

The United States also slapped sanctions on two Russian investigators, Elena Anatolievna Trikulya and Gennady Vyacheslavovich Karlov, for allegedly concealing facts over the detention and death of Magnitsky. “Nearly 10 years after his death, we remain concerned by the impunity for this and other violent crimes against activists, journalists, whistleblowers and political opposition,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

She also voiced concern about “the intense atmosphere of intimidation for those who work to uncover corruption or human rights violations in the Russian Federation.” The Kremlin on Friday promised reciprocal measures “in one way or another”. “Everything will be done in the national interest,” President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

The Russian embassy in Washington earlier said the “unconstructive” US decisions “run counter to a positive outlook of the recent Russia-US talks in Sochi”. The sanctions came just two days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Putin in the Russian resort of Sochi, with both sides voicing optimism at finding areas on which to work together.

Pompeo said he still had deep disagreements with Putin but believed the two powers could cooperate on issues including finding a political settlement in war-ravaged Syria and seeking a denuclearization deal with North Korea.