So much for the second Minsk ceasefire. A few hours ago, the US returned to its strategy of escalating Russian "costs" when it placed sanctions on eight Ukrainian separatists and a Russian bank, warning that recent attacks by rebels armed by Russia violated a European-brokered ceasefire in the war-torn country.
"If Russia continues to support destabilizing activity in Ukraine and violate the Minsk agreements and implementation plan, the already substantial costs it faces will continue to rise," Adam Szubin, the Treasury Department's acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement announcing the sanctions.
As Reuters adds, "the sanctions signal Washington is ratcheting up pressure on Moscow a day after accusing Russia of sending tanks and heavy military equipment into Ukraine, which a top U.S. official also said breached the Minsk accord agreed on Feb. 12." What was not said is that this also comes a day after the US sent over 100 tanks and armors to Russia neighbor Latvia in a move that would, from the Kremlin's perspective, signal further NATO arms build up on its borders.
Among the more prominent individuals sanctioned was Roman Lyagin, who chairs an election commission in separatist territory. The U.S. Treasury accused him of preventing voting in Ukraine's May presidential election.
Lyagin said he was not a fighter and was playing a peaceful role in the separatists' activities.
"It's the opposite, I do my best to stop the bloodshed," he said.
The full list of sanctioned individuals, as well the Russian National Commercial Bank, can be found here.
The Russian response to the latest sanction pending, but the response may have been hinted at earlier today when an official from Russia's Foreign Ministery said the nation has the right to deploy nuclear arms in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, however he added "he knew of no plans to do so."
"I don't know if there are nuclear weapons there now. I don't know about any plans, but in principle Russia can do it," said Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of the ministry's department on arms control, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
And finally, indicating that the semi-hot escalation between the US and Russia is close to getting out of control, AP reported moments ago that Vice President Joe Biden told Ukraine's president Wednesday the U.S. will send more aid to the country, which U.S. officials said will include small drones and armored Humvees.
The White House said in a statement that Biden delivered the news in a call to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, while expressing concern that Russian-backed separatists are violating cease-fire agreements in eastern Ukraine and keeping out international monitors.
U.S. officials, speaking on a condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the aid on the record, said the aid includes some small Raven drones systems, which can be launched by hand. The U.S. will also send 30 heavily armored Humvees and 200 other regular Humvees, as well as radios, counter-mortar radars and other equipment. All of the aid is nonlethal, and the drones are not armed.
AP adds that the drones and other equipment, not including the Humvees, are worth about $75 million. It's not clear how many drones would be sent or what the Humvees cost.
The good news: unlike US Humvees in Iraq, there are no ISIS soldiers in Ukraine who will "confiscate" this latest US taxpayer funded gift. At least not yet.
Finally, anyone curious why Joe Biden may have an extra special interest in preserving the Ukraine stats quo, here is a reminder:
R. Hunter Biden will be in charge of the Holdings’ legal unit and will provide support for the Company among international organizations. On his new appointment, he commented: “Burisma’s track record of innovations and industry leadership in the field of natural gas means that it can be a strong driver of a strong economy in Ukraine. As a new member of the Board, I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine.”
The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Burisma Holdings, Mr. Alan Apter, noted: “The company’s strategy is aimed at the strongest concentration of professional staff and the introduction of best corporate practices, and we’re delighted that Mr. Biden is joining us to help us achieve these goals.”
R. Hunter Biden is a counsel to Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, a national law firm based in New York, USA, which served in cases including “Bush vs. Gore”, and “U.S. vs. Microsoft”. He is one of the co-founders and a managing partner of the investment advisory company Rosemont Seneca Partners, as well as chairman of the board of Rosemont Seneca Advisors. He is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Masters Program in the School of Foreign Service.
Mr. Biden has experience in public service and foreign policy. He is a director for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, The Center for National Policy, and the Chairman’s Advisory Board for the National Democratic Institute. Having served as a Senior Vice President at MBNA bank, former U.S. President Bill Clinton appointed him an Executive Director of E-Commerce Policy Coordination under Secretary of Commerce William Daley. Mr. Biden served as Honorary Co-Chair of the 2008 Obama-Biden Inaugural Committee.
Mr. Biden is a member of the bar in the State of Connecticut, and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court of Federal Claims. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School.
R. Hunter Biden is also a well-known public figure. He is chairman of the Board of the World Food Programme U.S.A., together with the world’s largest humanitarian organization, the United Nations World Food Programme. In this capacity he offers assistance to the poor in developing countries, fighting hunger and poverty, and helping to provide food and education to 300 million malnourished children around the world.