The international community is rightly alarmed by the large, unprovoked build-up of Russian military forces on and near the border with Ukraine. The United States has pledged, in conjunction with its Allies and partners, there will be massive consequences if Russia rejects diplomacy and moves into Ukraine with military force again.
As Secretary of State Antony Blinken has noted, however, there are other dangerous, non-military moves that Russia is already planning or executing against Ukraine. One is an operation where Russia creates a provocation inside Ukraine and then uses that as justification to take pre-planned aggressive action.
There are also ongoing influence activities, directed by Russia’s intelligence services, namely the FSB, designed to destabilize Ukraine. To expose and disrupt these activities, the United States has imposed sanctions on four individuals engaged in them.
Two are current Ukrainian members of Parliament, Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn. The U.S. Department of Treasury said in a statement that Kozak controls several news channels in Ukraine and “has supported the FSB’s plan to denigrate senior members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s inner circle, falsely accusing them of mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.” His platforms also amplified false narratives around the 2020 U.S. election.
Voloshyn has worked with Russian actors to undermine Ukrainian government officials and advocate on behalf of Russia. He has also worked with U.S.-designated Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national with ties to Russian intelligence who was sanctioned for attempts to influence the U.S. 2020 presidential election at the behest of Russia.
The other two designated individuals are former Ukrainian parliament members Volodymr Oliynyk and Valdimir Sivkovich. Oliynyk worked at the direction of the FSB to gather information about Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. The Treasury Department noted, “Repeated cyber operations against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure are part of Russia’s hybrid tactics...designed to pull Ukraine into Russia’s orbit.” Sivkovich “worked with a network of Russian intelligence actors to carry out influence operations,” including efforts to get Kyiv to cede Crimea to Russia.
Secretary of State Blinken noted the designations of these four individuals are separate and distinct from the severe financial and economic measures the United States and its Allies and partners are prepared to impose on Russia if it were to further invade Ukraine. However, he wrote, “The United States, will continue to take steps, including through actions like this one...to identify, expose and undercut Russia’s destabilization efforts in Ukraine.”