The United States added new sanctions on Russia’s FSB intelligence agency and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Thursday for taking “hostage” Americans like a Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Russia last month.
The US is “showing that one cannot engage in this sort of awful behavior of using human beings as pawns, as bargaining chips, without paying consequences,” said a senior US official.
Both agencies have already been hit with punitive measures by the US State and Treasury Departments in the past.
But the official said the new sanctions would underscore the US view of what he described as an increasing phenomenon of governments detaining foreign nationals to extract political benefits.
“The use of human beings as political pawns, as bargaining chips, detained by governments but on false pretenses, is a practice that seems to be trending in the wrong direction,” the official said.
Applying sanctions aims “to promote accountability for the culprits, and by doing so, to prevent and deter the next set of cases from arising in the first place,” the official said.
The sanctions came a month after Russia detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, charging him with spying.
The US is seeking his release, and that of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine arrested in Russia in 2018 and sentenced to prison two years later for alleged spying.
Last year in prisoner swaps the US secured the release from Russia of basketball star Brittney Griner, jailed on drugs charges and another former Marine, Trevor Reed, imprisoned for assaulting a Russian police officer.
At least three US citizens are being held in Iranian prisons, including businessman Siamak Namazi, held in Tehran’s Evin prison since 2015.
The sanctions were announced on the FSB, Moscow’s federal security service, and on the intelligence organization of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The US Treasury also placed sanctions on four top officials of the IRGC intelligence body.
“Today’s action targets senior officials and security services in Iran and Russia that are responsible for the hostage-taking or wrongful detention of US nationals abroad,” said Treasury Under Secretary of the Brian Nelson in a statement.