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Vladimir Putin in Grand Kremlin Palace. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury Department is sanctioning 7 Russian oligarchs and 12 companies the oligarchs own or control for their “ongoing and increasingly brazen malign” activity, a senior administration official told reporters Friday.

Why it matters: The move targets Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, including his son-in-law, and represents the toughest sanctions against Russia since Trump took office. One senior administration official said the goal is to show that “the elite are not immune for accountability for the actions of the Russian government." It comes as tensions between Russia and the West are rising — fast.

Reality check: There are concerns the Trump administration dragged its feet on targeting Putin’s inner circle, giving them time to restructure their U.S. holdings.

The sanctions come in response to ongoing malicious cyber activities, attempts to subvert Western democracies, Russia’s invasion of Crimea and violence in Ukraine, as well as its assistance to the Syrian regime in bombing its civilians, the administration official said.

  • In addition to the oligarchs and their businesses, the U.S. is also sanctioning 17 Russian government officials; several energy companies, a state-owned weapons trading company with longstanding ties to the Syrian government, and its subsidiary, a Russian bank.
  • The effect: Those sanctioned will have their U.S. assets frozen, and U.S. individuals will be barred from dealing with them. Americans who knowingly try to help those being listed could also face sanctions.

One familiar name: Oleg Deripaska is targeted in these sanctions. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort started working for Deripaska in 2006. Manafort reportedly sent an email to Deripaska asking if he wanted private briefings on the campaign.

Timing: Last month the U.S. announced sanctions against Russian cyber actors for meddling in the U.S. election.

Go deeper: Meet Putin's oligarchs.

Go deeper

Updated 7 mins ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

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