On Thursday, the United States Treasury Department sanctioned four Ukrainian officials who are accused of assisting Russia.
The Treasury Department stated in a press release that it “sanctioned four individuals engaged in Russian government-directed influence activities to destabilize Ukraine.”
The Department added that the “action is intended to target, undermine, and expose Russia’s ongoing destabilization effort in Ukraine” and is “separate and distinct from the broad range of high impact measures the United States and its Allies and partners are prepared to impose in order to inflict significant costs on the Russian economy and financial system if it were to further invade Ukraine.”
It stated that the four people take action at the Russian Federal Security Service’s (FSB) direction. The FSB is a counterintelligence service, which the U.S. has already sanctioned. It is considered to essentially be a modern-day replacement of the KGB. The people also “support Russia-directed influence operations against the United States and its allies and partners.”
The four people have taken part “in Russia’s global influence campaign to destabilize sovereign countries in support of the Kremlin’s political objectives,” it noted.
The report noted that Russian intelligence operations, including the FSB, enlist Ukrainian citizens in important roles to achieve access “to sensitive information, threaten the sovereignty of Ukraine, and then leverage these Ukrainian officials to create instability in advance of a potential Russian invasion.”
The individuals include two “FSB pawns,” who are currently Ukrainian Members of Parliament. The other two are former Ukrainian authorities supporting Russia who are connected to the FSB.
As The Associated Press reported, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the four individuals were at the core of the Kremlin attempt that started in 2020 “to degrade the ability of the Ukrainian state to independently function.”
Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said, “The United States is taking action to expose and counter Russia’s dangerous and threatening campaign of influence and disinformation in Ukraine,” adding, “We are committed to taking steps to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing actions.”
The move comes as President Joe Biden receives criticism for remarks he made regarding the escalating situation between Ukraine and Russia on Wednesday.
“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said. “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”
Biden was later asked to clarify his statements.
“You said that Russia would be ‘held accountable if it invades’ and ‘it depends on what it does’; ‘it’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and … we end up having to fight about what to do and what not to do,’” one reporter said. “Are you saying that a minor incursion by Russia into Ukrainian territory would not lead to the sanctions that you have threatened? Or are you effectively giving Putin permission to make a small incursion into the country?”
“Good question. That’s how it did sound like, didn’t it?” Biden responded, laughing. “The most important thing to do: Big nations can’t bluff, number one.”
“And number two, the idea that we would do anything to split NATO, which would be a — have a profound impact on one of — I think prominent impact — on one of Putin’s objectives is to weaken NATO — would be a big mistake,” Biden continued. “So, the question is: If it’s a — something significantly short of a significant invasion — or not even significant, just major military forces coming across — for example, it’s one thing to determine that if they continue to use cyber efforts, well, we can respond the same way, with cyber.”
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky forcefully pushed back against Biden’s commentary.
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Zelensky tweeted. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power.”
On Thursday, during an appearance on Fox News, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to Zelensky’s tweet in real time.
“Well, I would be very – thank you for the opportunity. I want to be very clear. The president has conveyed directly to President Putin if there is a movement of any military troops across the border, that is an invasion,” Psaki said.
“If they go in, that is an invasion, and there will be severe economic consequences. I know President Zelensky knows that, and we’ve conveyed that,” Psaki continued. “There are a range of tactics the Russians use and have been warning about some of those steps including the spreading of misinformation out there, which has been widespread, was widespread in 2014, the use of cyber tools and we are also going to be ready to respond to that as well, and we will be working in lock step with Ukraine.”