The US sanctions target Russia’s Federal Security Service, often known as the FSB, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization, or IRGC-IO, for “being responsible or complicit, directly or indirectly involved in or responsible for ordering , controlling or otherwise directing the unlawful detention of an American citizen abroad.”
Two senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, said Thursday’s sanctions were in place before Russian authorities detained US citizen Evan Gershkovich last month.
Gershkovic, a journalist at The Wall Street Journal, was arrested at the end of March on espionage charges. The State Department has made formal moves to declare Gershkovich’s detention unlawful, opening up additional resources to secure his release.
The Biden administration and The Wall Street Journal management denied Russian claims that Gershkovic was a spy.
The administration has identified at least two US citizens who are wrongfully detained in Russia and three in Iran, along with one lawful permanent resident of the US.
An administration official said their families were informed of the new sanctions before Thursday’s announcement.
The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against the following individuals in Iran:
– Ruhollah Bazghandi, an IRGC-IO counterintelligence official, was involved in the detention of foreign prisoners held in Iran. The department says its work for the IRGC-IO includes plans to assassinate journalists, Israeli citizens and others considered enemies of Iran;
– Mohammad Kazemi, commander of the IRGC-IO, oversees operations to suppress civil society in Iran, including the regime’s crackdown on protests across the country in response to the killing of Mahsa Amini, according to the department. He was previously designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control in October.
– Mohamad Mehdi Sayyari, co-deputy head of the IRGC-IO, was directly involved in organizing the logistics for the prisoners in Iran;
– Mohammad Hasan Mohagheghi, co-deputy head of the IRGC-IO, serves as a liaison between senior IRGC officials and IRGC-IO officials in counterintelligence operations in Syria, the department said.
“Our action is a warning to those around the world who would unreasonably detain American citizens of the potential consequences of their actions,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters.
“These actors from Russia and Iran tried to use the Americans to gain political influence or to obtain concessions from the United States. These actions threaten the stability and integrity of the international political system. It also threatens the safety of American citizens and other people abroad,” the person in question added.
“Sanctions are meant to change behavior and incentivize better behavior and we hope they can help achieve that now and in the future,” the second official said.
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