By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States, Canada and European Union on Friday imposed fresh sanctions to punish Russia for its 2018 attack on three Ukrainian ships as well as its annexation of Crimea and its activities in eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. Treasury said it targeted four members of Russia’s Federal Security Services for their involvement in the naval clash in the Kerch Strait linking the Black and Avov seas near Crimea, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement.
Russia opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Nov. 25, capturing 24 Ukrainian soldiers who remain in Russian custody.
In a coordinated announcement, Canada imposed sanctions on 114 people and 15 entities in response to Russia’s military action against the Ukrainian ships, while the European Union sanctioned eight more Russians over the stand-off.
The EU said its sanctions affected senior security service officials and military commanders accused of preventing Ukrainian ships from reaching port.
Daniel Fried, a former top U.S. diplomat now at the Atlantic Council think tank, praised the Trump administration, EU and Canada for acting together but suggested their response was belated and questioned whether it is part a wider U.S. strategy.
“The coordination is good, the fact that we finally did something is good. The problem is that it took a long time – the Kerch Strait aggression was at the end of November, it’s now the middle of March, so we look sluggish,” he said.
Trump, whose 2016 campaign is being probed for possible collusion with Russia, has stressed he wants good ties with Moscow, despite tensions over Ukraine, Syria and alleged election meddling around the world. Trump has denied collusion and Russia denies interfering in the U.S. presidential election.
The result, Fried said, is “a disconnect between what Trump says about Russia and what the administration does about Russia” that leaves the rest of the world guessing about how serious the United States is about pushing back against Russia over Ukraine.
In their statements, the United States, Canada and the European Union stressed their joint action.
“The United States and our transatlantic partners will not allow Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine to go unchecked,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The U.S. Treasury sanctions also target six Russian defence firms operating in Crimea, the statement said, “several of which misappropriated Ukrainian state assets to provide services to the Russian military” during its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The Treasury also imposed sanctions on two Ukrainian separatists for backing “illegitimate separatist government elections” in eastern Ukraine, Treasury said.
The United States, Canada and the European Union also again pressed Moscow to release the sailors seized in November.
“Canada and its allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia’s provocations in the Kerch Strait and its illegal invasion and ongoing occupation of Crimea will not go unchecked,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)