U.S. preps new effort to crack down on Russian sanctions evasion

REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks to the media about the war in Ukraine and other topics at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2022.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is preparing new efforts to crack down on sanctions evasion by Russia, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said on Thursday.

“Where our focus will be over the course of the coming days is on evasion,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview at the Economic Club of Washington.

“I think we’ll have some announcements in the next week or two that identify targets that are trying to facilitate that evasion both inside Russia and beyond,” he said, without giving details on the coming plans.

But Sullivan did say that Washington has no desire to give back yachts and other assets seized from people they see as oligarchs with ties to Putin.

“The president is actively looking at how we can deal with the fact that as we seize these assets, our goal is not to give them back,” he said.

“Our goal is to put them to a better use than that. But I’ll be careful in what I say today because there’s an ongoing – kind of – policy process around how we end up dealing with that question. But rest assured that the goal is not just to sit on them for a while and then pass them all back.”

Arming Ukraine

He also said that any efforts by Russia to disrupt weapons transfers benefiting Ukraine could escalate the standoff with the West.

“The United States is not operating inside the territory of Ukraine, so if the Russians, obviously, were to strike NATO territory, where materiel is being assembled, that would invoke Article 5 and would be a complete game changer.”

Article 5 of the NATO charter says an attack on one member of the military alliance is an attack on all of its members. It has been invoked only once, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Sullivan said an attack on a Russian missile cruiser claimed by Ukraine on Thursday had dealt a blow to Russia.

“We’ve been in touch with the Ukrainians overnight, who had said that they struck the ship with anti-ship missiles,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity at this point to independently verify that but certainly, the way this unfolded, it’s a big blow to Russia.”

Russia’s defense ministry, however, said a fire had broken out on the missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, after ammunition blew up on board, and did not mention an attack. Reuters was unable to verify either side’s statements.

The ship sank after the U.S. official’s comments.

Sullivan declined to discuss whether any senior U.S. official would soon visit Kyiv, as leaders of other countries including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have recently done. He warned that fighting in Ukraine could go on for months or longer.