U.S. Aims Sanctions at Pro-Russian Separatists as Blinken Plans Ukraine, Russia Meetings

The U.S. is preparing financial sanctions on pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine as Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

heads to Europe to meet the Ukrainian leadership and his Russian counterpart, part of a show of diplomacy and pressure that Washington hopes will dissuade Russia from invading its neighbor, U.S. officials said.

As pressure mounts for the U.S. and its European allies to take swift action to deter Russian escalation, the coming action against Ukrainian individuals rather than the Russian government underscores some of the administration’s hesitation to go after Moscow directly, officials said. The U.S. and its allies hope for a diplomatic breakthrough after four rounds of talks last week failed to narrow the gap between Moscow and Western nations.

The pending sanctions, which will freeze the assets of at least four individuals, could be announced as early as Thursday. They would be the latest in a string of actions under an executive order signed by President Biden last April that aim to punish individuals associated with Russia’s foreign aggression.

The State Department declined to comment. The Treasury Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A military buildup along the Ukrainian border is further straining ties between Russia and the U.S., after clashes over cybercrime, expulsions of diplomats and a migrant crisis in Belarus. WSJ explains what is deepening the rift between Washington and Moscow. Photo Composite/Video: Michelle Inez Simon

The U.S. officials didn’t identify the individuals whom the sanctions would target. Since 2014, Moscow has fomented separatist conflict in the country’s east, relying in large part on friendly Russian-speaking Ukrainians who have taken up arms against Kyiv government forces.

In recent months, Moscow has deployed more than 100,000 troops to the border regions, prompting fears it plans to invade its neighbor or is generating a crisis to extract security concessions from the West. Russia also has been moving tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket launchers and other military equipment westward from their bases in its Far East, according to U.S. officials and social-media reports.

The U.S. has pressed Russia to de-escalate the situation by withdrawing troops from the border region. Russia has said it has the right to move forces about on its own territory and denied it intends to invade Ukraine. But it has demanded concessions from North Atlantic Treaty Organization that would effectively rewrite the post-World War II security establishment on the European continent.

On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken will meet Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

and Foreign Minister

Dmytro Kuleba

in Kyiv, demonstrating the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty. Mr. Blinken also will discuss with U.S. diplomats and their families the State Department’s contingency planning, should Russia “choose to escalate further,” a senior State Department official said. The security situation in Ukraine is severely deteriorating, the official said, noting the U.S. has warned Americans not to travel there.

The next day, Mr. Blinken will travel to Berlin to meet Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, to discuss allies’ preparation to impose “massive consequences and severe economic costs” on Russia if it invades Ukraine. The U.S. is weighing a set of leveraged financial sanctions and export controls, while likely avoiding the most crippling energy and financial sanctions, U.S. officials have said.

What’s Happening in Kazakhstan?

Write to Vivian Salama at [email protected] and William Mauldin at [email protected]

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