Washington — The Biden administration announced new sanctions Thursday targeting Russia’s security service and Iran’s elite military intelligence unit, along with four of its leaders, in an effort to hold them accountable for taking American hostages and wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens.
“These actors in Russia and Iran have tried to use Americans for political leverage, or to seek concessions from the United States. These actions threaten the stability and integrity of the international political system. They also threaten the safety of U.S. nationals and other persons abroad,” a senior administration officials told reporters.
Officials said the sanctions target Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and are meant to “promote accountability for culprits” and “prevent and deter” future wrongful detentions. They said the FSB and IRGC have been involved in and ordered the arrests of Americans who have been wrongfully detained.
President Biden signed an executive order last year to strengthen the tools the administration can use to secure the release of Americans held abroad. The sanctions announced Thursday are the first such penalties imposed under that order, officials said.
The sanctions cut off the targeted entities from the U.S. financial system and make it illegal for others to do business with them. The Treasury Department said the IRGC members who were sanctioned include a counterintelligence official who has been involved in assassination plots; a commander who was previously sanctioned for his role in the crackdown on Iranian protesters; an official responsible for logistics involving prisoners in Iran; and a brigadier general.
The officials, who previewed the sanctions on condition of anonymity, stressed that the sanctions have been in the works since last year and were not prompted by any specific case, including the recent detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
Gershkovich was arrested in Russia last month and charged with spying, an accusation the U.S. has denounced as bogus. Within days, the State Department formally declared that he was being wrongfully detained, a step that requires the government to work to free him.
In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times on Thursday, leaders of the three news organizations called for the U.S. government, the president and the White House to support efforts to secure his release.
“As editors and publishers of some of America’s largest news organizations, we are united in calling for his immediate release. Reporting is not a crime,” the ad said.
Family members of another detainee held in Russia, Paul Whelan, have become increasingly frustrated as they have watched the government swap Russian prisoners in the U.S. for other Americans who have been wrongfully detained in Russia. Whelan remains imprisoned on espionage charges.
In a recent email update, Whelan’s brother David urged the U.S. government to “come up with something more than thoughts and prayers” to bring him home.
“Perhaps the White House does know what it might take to the get the job done but they are reluctant to cross what they see as some red line,” Whelan’s sister Elizabeth recently said.
The family of Emad Shargi, an American-Iranian dual citizen who has been wrongfully detained in Iran since 2018, have asked Mr. Biden to “do anything” in his power to bring Shargi home.
Kristin Brown contributed to this report.