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EU slaps asset freeze, travel ban on Putin cronies

BRUSSELS -- The EU on Wednesday imposed an asset freeze and travel ban against two close associates of President Vladimir Putin who are leading shareholders in a bank catering to senior Russian officials.

The EU's Official Journal listed eight people and three firms immediately hit by the sanctions due to their alleged involvement directly or indirectly in the crisis in eastern Ukraine and the March annexation of Crimea.

Far wider sweeping EU economic sanctions affecting capital markets, banks, arms and oil-related technology are expected to be published in the Official Journal on Thursday or Friday and come into force later this week.

Among those blacklisted Wednesday were Yuriy Valentinovich Kovalchuk, chairman and leading shareholder of Rossiya Bank, who had a 38 percent stake in it last year, and Nicolay Terentievich Shamalov, second largest stakeholder in the institution considered the personal bank of senior Russian Federation officials.

The European Union said the bank had opened branches across Crimea and that it had “important stakes in the National Media Group which in its turn controls television stations which actively support the Russian government's policies of destabilisation of Ukraine.”

The EU Journal also said the two were co-founders of the so-called Ozero Dacha, a cooperative society bringing together an influential group of individuals around Putin.

Also listed was Putin's wealthy former judo sparring partner, Arkady Romanovich Rotenberg, whose companies won lucrative contracts ahead of the Sochi Olympic Games and who is a shareholder of Giprotransmost, a company involved in trying to build a bridge from Russia to Crimea.

Others hit by the sanctions are Crimea's interior minister Sergey Abisov, Konstantin Valerevich Malofeev, said to have funded pro-Moscow separatists; senior Putin official Alexey Alexeyevich Gromov; the spokeswoman of the separatist Lugansk People's Republic, Oksana Tchigrina; and Boris Litvinov of the Donetsk People's Republic.

The three firms targeted are Almaz-Antey, a state-owned Russian company manufacturing anti-aircraft weaponry including surface-to-air missiles; Dobrolet, a subsidiary of a Russian state-owned airline that operates flights between Moscow and Simferopol; and the Russian National Commercial Bank now owned by the “Republic of Crimea.”

The EU Official Journal also banned new investment in the exploitation of oil, gas and minerals in Crimea and Sevastopol, and in infrastructure projects in transport, telecommunications and energy there.

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