Wednesday, May 22, 2024

US targets Russia’s FSB, IRGC’s intelligence unit over detention of Americans

The United States has imposed sanctions on Russia's domestic security service FSB and the intelligence unit of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), accusing them of "being responsible or complicit in the wrongful detention of Americans overseas".

The sanctions also targeted four senior commanders within IRGC’s IO, although among them were at least one individual who had been already been subject to previous US sanctions.

FSB, which was targeted because officials said it was involved in the detention of at least one US citizen whose name was not disclosed, was also subject to previous US sanctions.

Speaking to reporters in a briefing call on the condition of anonymity, senior Joe Biden administration officials stated Thursday’s move aimed to show that there would be consequences for those who tried to use US citizens for political leverage or seek concessions from Washington.

“Our actions are a clear and direct warning to those around the world who wrongfully detain US nationals of the potential consequences of their actions,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The move, the US officials noted, aimed to promote accountability, and by doing so prevent and deter further politically motivated detentions of Americans abroad, adding Thursday’s sanctions were just the beginning and that there was possibly more to come.

Last month, Russia’s FSB arrested Evan Gershkovich, a US reporter working for the Wall Street Journal and accused him of espionage, a charge he has denied. Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, has also been serving a 16-year jail sentence in a Russian penal colony over spying accusations. He denies any wrongdoing.

Ties between the United States and Russia have sunk to their worst in decades following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, however the two former Cold War foes have managed to carry out compartmentalized diplomacy which resulted in two prisoner swaps last year.

In one, Washington has secured the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner who was held in Russia on drug charges, by commuting the sentence of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The plight of Americans detained by foreign governments has moved into the spotlight with Griner’s case. Although the US government does not provide figures, there are more than 60 such detainees, according to the James Foley Foundation, named after an American journalist abducted and killed in Syria.

At least several of them are jailed in Iran.

Iran has repeatedly expressed its readiness for swift implementation of a prisoner swap deal with the US while urging Washington to free Iranians imprisoned in the US without tying the issue with irrelevant issues.

Back in mid-August, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani reaffirmed Tehran’s commitment and determination to implement the agreement concerning the issue of prisoners, calling on the US to fulfill its commitments than “performing theatrical shows”.

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