Russia front company sanctioned after another chemical attack in Syria

Caravanserai and AFP


Syrian (front) and Russian soldiers stand at the Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria, September 26. The support the Russian military has given the Syrian regime has empowered it to carry out a number of chemical attacks in recent years. [Maxime Popov/AFP]

NEW YORK -- The United States on Thursday (September 26) announced new sanctions targeting a Russian smuggling operation in Syria after confirmation of another chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The Assad regime used chlorine on May 19 in Latakia Province during its offensive to take back the last major rebel stronghold in nearby Idlib, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

"The United States will not allow these attacks to go unchallenged, nor will we tolerate those who choose to conceal these atrocities," Pompeo told reporters in New York, where he was taking part in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

"The United States will continue to pressure the insidious Assad regime to end the violence directed at Syrian civilians and participate in the UN-led political process," he said.


Russia-backed Syrian regime air strikes destroyed this medical facility in southern Aleppo on August 30. This is one of many such attacks on medical and humanitarian targets by Russian and Syrian aircraft aimed at displacing thousands of Syrian civilians. [White Helmets]

He later took part in a meeting on Syria with his counterparts from France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, who said in a joint statement: "The use of any chemical weapons in Syria shall not be tolerated."

No independent verification was available of the attack from northwestern Syria, where rights observers say that more than 1,000 people have been killed and 400,000 displaced since the government began its bombardment in April.

The United States and France had both earlier aired suspicions of a chemical bombardment but had held off on making a formal determination, saying more research was needed.

International investigators say Assad has repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilian targets in his brutal quest to win the civil war, in which more than 370,000 people have died.

The US military carried out strikes with 59 cruise missiles in response to a sarin gas bombardment in April 2017 in the rebel-held Idlib town of Khan Sheikhun.

Moscow-based front

The US Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions on three individuals, five shipping vessels and a Moscow-based front company for participating in a scheme to move money and fuel to Russian forces supporting al-Assad's regime.

"Assad's despotic regime is under an international spotlight for using chemical weapons and committing atrocities against innocent Syrian civilians and they rely on these types of illicit networks to stay in power," Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation found that Moscow-based Maritime Assistance LLC was a front for the Russian shipping company Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group, on which the United States imposed sanctions in September 2016.

After Sovfracht's blacklisting, Maritime Assistance carried out business on its behalf, selling and shipping jet fuel in 2016 and 2017 to Banias, Syria, for use by Russian military aircraft.

"Russia's support of the Assad regime enabled its continued bombing campaigns that destroyed numerous hospitals, schools and public spaces, resulting in civilian deaths," the statement said.

In addition to Maritime Assistance, the Treasury Department on Thursday blacklisted three managers from Sovfracht for their alleged roles in the scheme: Ivan Okorokov, director of Marine Transport, Karen Stepanyan, deputy director, and Ilya Loginov, deputy general director for legal support.

Treasury added five allegedly involved vessels to the list.

The action prohibits US banks from moving money on behalf of the company and individuals, freezing them out of much of the global financial system. The action additionally blocks their access to any US assets.

Continued obstructionism

These new developments come more than a week after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution backed by 12 of the 15 member states that called for a ceasefire in war-torn Idlib Province, Syria.

The vote was Russia's 13th veto of a UN resolution since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011.

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait had led the push for the resolution, noting that half a million Syrians have been displaced in Idlib since government forces opened an offensive four months ago.

They warned that the conflict could become the century's worst humanitarian crisis if the fighting persisted and urged Russia not to veto what they said was a "purely humanitarian" measure.

But following two weeks of negotiations, Russia quashed the text on September 19 after pressing unsuccessfully to include an exception for "anti-terrorist operations".

The failed resolution said that all parties should cease hostilities "to avoid a further deterioration of the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Idlib Governorate, beginning at noon Damascus time on 21 September".

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Russian Vatniks [derogatory] are scum who have no right to exist


I wish we had your problems. Everything is fine here, isn't it! I checked the rate - one ruble is six already. Forget about ruble, Kyrgyz som is moving towards six. We got the richest territory when [the Soviet Union] collapsed in the 90s and turned it into a big bare-naked arse in 38 years. Kazakhs don't eat meat anymore. Meat prices have gone up twofold over a year. Poultry is three times more expensive. And you are blabbering about Russia, Putin and so on here. I bought a car in Russia in 2014; the exchange rate was 65 [rubles] to one dollar. It is the same now. Mouth runners. I'm sick of you already.


Liar, liar, pants on fire, Van'ka [diminutive of Ivan], the rate was 33 rubles to one buck in 2014 and 65 [rubles] after Crimea. And it's impossible to kick Russians out of Kazakhstan and into impoverished Russia. That's it.


Crimea is [part of] Ukraine!


These Russians have committed so many genocides


Russia is a terrorist and beast country


Maybe chemical weapons should be used to attack Russia; let them experience a taste of their own medicine.


Are you fucking cuckoos? Russians should withdraw their troops, and you along with your Yanks can work your fucking arses off ever after if you say so...


The Russians are starting to go mad because the truth about their crimes against the Syrian people is coming to light. Muslims of Russia, rise [in rebellion]!


What fucking bull Shitserai is slinging


We, Kazakhs, will avenge the murders of children in Chechnya, Beslan, and Syria. Putler will meet the same fate as the swine-faced rapist Budanov. [Col. Yury Budanov, while deployed in Chechnya in 2000, kidnapped, raped and brutally murdered Elza Kungaeva, an 18-year-old Chechen girl. Budanov claimed she was a militant sniper. He was convicted, dishonourably discharged, and served eight years in prison out of his ten-year sentence. Killers gunned Budanov down in Moscow in 2010; 'Putler' is Putin's nickname reminiscent of 'Hitler' among his opponents]