UK sanctions Russian officials over 'sham' votes in Ukraine
The UK on Friday announced new sanctions against almost a dozen senior Russian officials and the country's election commission over "sham" elections held in occupied Ukrainian territory this month and last year.
The move takes the number of individuals and entities sanctioned by Britain in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly 20 months ago to more than 1,600.
London said it was targeting the 10 officials and electoral organisation after they "all directly acted to undermine Ukraine and threaten its territorial integrity" in the condemned referendums and elections staged last October and earlier this month.
Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC), which organised them is on the new sanctions list, along with Natalya Budarina, one of its most senior officials.
She is among three Russian federal officials on the list announced Friday.
Andrei Aleksyenko, head of what Moscow now claims as the Kherson regional administration, and Marina Zakharova, head of its election commission, were also penalised.
All those targeted face foreign asset freezes and travel restrictions, though the CEC is not thought to have any UK-based assets.
Some of the 11, including the commission, have been targeted by other Western allies previously, but most have not.
Russia held what London calls "falsified and illegitimate sham referendums" last October in the four seized Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
They then held further votes there and in Crimea -- which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 -- which ended on September 10.
The Kremlin claims it won local backing to annex the eastern and southern Ukrainian territories in the ballots last year, despite not having full military control over the regions.
It also says the United Russia party, which backs President Vladimir Putin, won this month's dubious elections.
The votes have been dismissed by Ukraine and its Western allies as sham contests, and Kyiv's forces are fighting to claw back the seized territory.
"Russia's sham elections are a transparent, futile attempt to legitimise its illegal control of sovereign Ukrainian territory," British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in statement announcing the latest sanctions.
"You can't hold 'elections' in someone else's country," he said. "The UK will never recognise Russia's claims to Ukrainian territory -- Crimea, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson are Ukraine."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also criticised the "sham elections" earlier this month, warning that "any individuals" involved in facilitating them "may be subject to sanctions and visa restrictions".
The European Union also told Russia this month that there would be "consequences" for those involved in staging the votes.
The bloc has already imposed 11 rounds of sanctions against Moscow since February 2022, while Washington has also hit Russia with multiple punitive packages.
Western sources insist there is plenty of evidence that the cumulative impact of sanctions is increasingly impeding Russia, citing GDP declines and exploding military budgets.
Some estimates claim that the West's entire sanctions regime, including a Russian oil price cap, has denied the Kremlin as much as $400 billion, which could have been used in the Ukraine war.