By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union on Friday blacklisted Russian military commanders who it said led troops involved in atrocities in Ukraine, describing them as the “butchers” of Bucha and Mariupol.
Its latest sanction list also included Alina Kabaeva, whom it described as “closely associated” with President Vladimir Putin, although he has denied they are romantically linked.
The EU released the names of 65 more people targeted by the latest round of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which also included a ban on most oil imports and removing Russia’s top lender Sberbank from the international SWIFT payments system.
Among the 65 people named was Azatbek Omurbekov, who the EU said led Russian troops as they “killed, raped and tortured civilians in Bucha”, earning him the nickname “Butcher of Bucha”. Russia has denied killing civilians in Bucha.
Also named was Mikhail Mizintsev, a general the EU said oversaw the siege and bombardment of Mariupol that killed thousands. Russian strikes on the Azov Sea port city hit a maternity hospital and a theatre, killing hundreds of children, the EU said, dubbing him “the Butcher of Mariupol”.
Russia denied targeting civilians in Mariupol and has said, without presenting evidence, that incidents including the theatre bombing and maternity hospital attack were staged to incriminate Russia. Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed this as a smear to deflect blame.
Another prominent addition to the blacklist, which includes more than 1,100 names in total, is Kabaeva, a former Olympic medallist in gymnastics and then a member of parliament with Putin’s United Russia party.
In 2008, Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent named Kabaeva as Putin’s girlfriend. Putin has rejected the assertion and Reuters could not independently confirm it. The newspaper closed soon after the article appeared.
The EU also listed Elizaveta and Nikolay Peskov, children of Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, as well as Peskov’s wife – former ice skating champion Tatiana Navka.
Peskov did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Reuters but was quoted by Russia’s state TASS news agency as saying the EU proved its “lack of independence” in blacklisting his family after the United States has.
He said his daughter used to study in France and was fond of the country but was working and living in Russia now.
Aleksandra Melnichenko, the wife of Russian billionaire Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko, was also among the 65 names.
The businessman was blacklisted in March but sought to avoid business damage for his companies – fertiliser producer EuroChem and coal company SUEK – by reassigning ownership to his wife through a chain of trusts stretching from Moscow to Bermuda, a Reuters investigation showed.
“In March 2022, Aleksandra Melnichenko replaced her husband as the beneficial owner of Firstline Trust, managed by Linetrust PTC Ltd, a company which represents the ultimate owner of EuroChem Group,” said the EU.
The latest sanctions also hit Arkady Volozh, who immediately stepped down as chief executive of Yandex, Russian internet giant where state-owned banks including Sberbank own a stake, the EU said.
The bloc said Yandex was promoting state narratives and lowering the visibility of content critical of the Kremlin, including on the war in Ukraine.
Yandex shares fell by as much as 10% following the EU announcement, which came on the 100th day of Russia’s invasion, though later recovered to a 6% loss on the day at 1500 GMT.
The EU also hit Russia’s National Settlement Depository, which Moscow planned to use to service the country’s Eurobonds after Citibank withdrew, raising the risk of a major external debt default.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alison Williams)