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Treasury censures pro-Russian officials, railway over Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2-L, back to camera) travels aboard a rail-bus from Kerch to Taman before the opening ceremony of the railway part of the Krymsky (Crimean) Bridge over the Kerch Strait, Crimea, Dec. 23, 2019. Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/EPA-EFE/SPUTNIK/ KREMLIN POOL
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2-L, back to camera) travels aboard a rail-bus from Kerch to Taman before the opening ceremony of the railway part of the Krymsky (Crimean) Bridge over the Kerch Strait, Crimea, Dec. 23, 2019. Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/EPA-EFE/SPUTNIK/ KREMLIN POOL

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The Trump administration has imposed sanctions against a Moscow-based private railway company and seven Russian-backed officials in connection to the country's continued attempts to occupy the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued the sanctions Wednesday against Grand Service Express and its CEO Alexander Ganov after the company began a passenger service late last month between Russia and Crimea over the newly constructed, $4 billion Kerch Strait Bridge, stating the move was done in support of Russian efforts to deepen the economic integration of the two regions.

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Seven Crimean officials, including its pro-Russian prime minister, Yuri Gotsanyuk, were also sanctioned for asserting government authority over the Crimean Peninsula through holding elections last year without Ukrainian authorization, undermining its democratic processes and institutions while threatening security and peace in the region, the Treasury said.

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Along with Gotsanyuk, the officials sanctioned were of the election commission and the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, the acting governor of Sevastopol and chairman of the Legislative Assembly.

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The sanctions, which freeze all property and interests of the blacklisted individuals, coincided with Canada imposing sanctions on the same officials involved in the elections held on Sept. 8 and followed those slapped against them the day before by the European Union.

"Treasury's action, taken in close coordination with our international allies and partners, reiterates our unwavering support for restoring free and fair democratic political processes in Crimea," Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. "The coordinated U.S., EU and Canadian designations limit the ability of these illegitimate officials to do business internationally and highlights the strength of the transatlantic alliance in standing up to Russia's continued aggression."

The Russian Embassy in Washington condemned the U.S. sanctions, stating they will continue to aggravate their already frayed bilateral relations.

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"Washington still believes it can by means of restrictive measures undermine the positive changes occurring in Crimea after the reunification with Russia," the embassy said in a statement. "They can't reconcile with the success of the Russian authorities with the comprehensive development of the region."

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The United States is trying to misrepresent Russia's strengthening of the local government and political process, it said.

"We would like to remind our colleagues that restrictions will not change Russia's policy," it said.

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Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Western nations have slapped hundreds of sanctions against those deemed responsible with the EU freezing the assets and banning visas to 177 people and 44 entities and Canada doing the same to more than 430 individuals and entities.

Canada said its support of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity is "unwavering."

"Today's sanctions demonstrate that Canda and its allies stand united in their condemnation of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and the illegitimate elections held there last fall and that Canada and the international community are ready to impose a cost for ignoring international law and the rules-based international order," Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement.

The sanctions also come ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompe's planned trip to Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday when he is to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials to highlight U.S. support for their country's sovereignty, the State Department said in a summary of his upcoming trip to Europe.

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