WASHINGTON • The Obama administration has blacklisted five Russians, including the government's chief public investigator who is a close aide to President Vladimir Putin, for human rights abuses, laying down a marker for President-elect Donald Trump less than two weeks before he takes office with a vow to thaw relations with Russia.
The sanctions, announced on Monday by the Treasury Department, are not related to allegations of Russian hacking during the US presidential election, according to a senior administration official. But they carry symbolic weight at a charged moment as likely the last visible act the United States will take against Russia before power is transferred in Washington.
The biggest name added to the list is that of Mr Alexander Bastrykin, who reports directly to Mr Putin and has carried out political investigations on his behalf.
Mr Bastrykin, officials said, was complicit in the case of Mr Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in detention in murky circumstances in November 2009 and for whom the Magnitsky Act was named.
Under that 2012 law, passed by Congress with Democratic and Republican support, the Treasury and Justice departments must investigate and penalise Russian individuals involved in that case and subsequent cover-ups, or in other human rights abuses.
The Obama administration has now put 44 people on the list. The recent sanctions include a ban on travel to the US and freezing of any assets held by, or transactions with, American financial institutions.
"The mood and atmosphere are very different this year," said Mr David Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a policy research centre. "Adding a few more names to the sanctions list sends a couple of signals. That this administration, as it goes out the door, is still going to implement the Magnitsky Act. It's also sending a signal to the next administration that it hopes it will continue this policy."
In addition to Mr Bastrykin, the administration is targeting Mr Andrei Lugovoi and Mr Dmitri Kovtun, two Russian intelligence officers who the British authorities said poisoned a fellow Russian spy, Mr Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006. Also added to the list are two lower-level officials.