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3 long-time Putin allies, including ex-judo partner, among 8 people hit with new EU sanctions

BRUSSELS - The European Union targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle for the first time Wednesday for the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine, subjecting three of his long-time associates to EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans.

A total of eight people were added to the EU's sanctions list for allegedly undermining Ukraine's sovereignty or profiting from Moscow's takeover of Crimea, the EU's Official Journal showed. Three companies were also blacklisted.

Among the individuals was Arkady Rotenberg, Putin's former judo partner and a major shareholder of the civil engineering company Giprotransmost. The company has received a public contract to conduct a study on building a bridge from Russia to Crimea, the EU said.

Also targeted was Yuri Kovalchuk, a longtime Putin acquaintance identified by the EU as co-founder of the Ozero Dacha, a co-operative society bringing together influential individuals around Russia's president. Kovalchuk is also the chairman and largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya, which has opened branches in Crimea since its unilateral annexation by Russia.

The third Putin ally on the sanctions list was Nikolai Shamalov, another Ozero Dacha co-founder and the second largest shareholder in Bank Rossiya.

Rotenberg and Kovalchuk have been subject to similar U.S. sanctions since March.

The other five people targeted by the EU measures, which go into effect immediately, include the first deputy chief of staff of the Russian presidential administration and three pro-Moscow officials in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

The companies subjected to EU restrictions were the Russian National Commercial Bank, which was taken over by pro-Russian authorities in Crimea, the subsidiary of the Russian state-owned Aeroflot airline that now operates between Moscow and Crimea, and Almaz-Antei, which the EU said makes anti-aircraft missiles that separatists in Ukraine have used to shoot down aircraft.

The new measures mean a total of 95 people and 23 entities are now subject to the EU's Ukraine-related sanctions.

The Canadian Press


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