UK Sanctions Russian Insurance Giant, Putin's Ex-Wife

Law360, London (May 13, 2022, 6:06 PM BST) -- Britain slapped sanctions on 12 more Russians on Friday, including President Vladimir Putin's ex-wife and directors of one of the country's largest insurance companies, as it ratcheted up punitive measures against the Kremlin because of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation imposed asset freezes against former first lady Lyudmila Ocheretnaya and numerous company owners and directors because of their links with Russia's head of state.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the U.K. is "exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin's luxury lifestyle and tightening the [vise] on his inner circle. We will keep going with sanctions on all those aiding and abetting Putin's aggression until Ukraine prevails."

Westminster also included Putin's cousin Mikhail Putin, the deputy chairman of Russian insurance group Sogaz JSC and energy giant Gazprom PJSC, in the sanctions. Fellow Sogaz board member Mikhail Klishin was included due to his role in "a sector of strategic significance" to the Kremlin, the government said.

Sogaz provided insurance for the construction of railway infrastructure between the Russian mainland and Crimea, which Moscow annexed in February and March 2014.

The U.S. first imposed sanctions on Sogaz in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, saying it would punish "economic extortion" in Ukraine. The insurance company, which is allied with Gazprom, Sberbank and national airline Aeroflot, was hit by U.K. and EU sanctions after Russian troops crossed Ukraine's border on Feb. 24.

HM Treasury also sanctioned numerous people linked with the parent company of Russia's state-owned media channel, One Russia, including Alina Kabaeva, the chair of the board of Russia's National Media Group.

Both Sogaz and NMG are major shareholders in Channel One Russia, which broadcasts the most popular news program in the country. The channel received international media attention after editor Maria Ovsyannikova held up a sign on camera during a live broadcast that read "Stop the war, don't believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here."

The new sanctions also included several directors of Russia's state-owned oil company Gazprom and its subsidiary Gazprombank OJSC, Russia's third-largest bank by assets, because of their links to the Kremlin and their role in the country's economy.

The U.S. targeted 27 Gazprombank officials this month as it rolled out new sanctions to limit Russian's access to financial services. 

Also on Friday, the Global Federation of Insurance Associations ejected Russia's insurance trade body to express solidarity with Ukraine and protest Russia's invasion. 

NMG, Gazprom and Sogaz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Western governments have increasingly ramped up sanctions on Russia since the war began to restrict Putin's government from funding its invasion of Ukraine.

President Joe Biden announced in April that he will expand the types of frozen Russian assets U.S. prosecutors can seize, and allow the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to be given to Ukraine. 

The EU rolled out the sixth set of sanctions against Russia earlier this month saying it will completely embargo Russian oil by the end of the year and ordered Russia's largest bank Sberbank to be banned from SWIFT, the international bank messaging system. The U.S. and U.K. had already blocked Russian oil imports in March as President Biden said the move targeted the "main artery of Russia's economy."  

--Additional reporting by Joel Poultney, Elise Hansen, Alyssa Aquino, James Arkin and Irene Madongo. Editing by Joe Millis.

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