Apr 27, 2023, 1:06pm EDT

US sanctions Russia and Iran for wrongfully detaining Americans

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March while on a reporting trip and charged with espionage, stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his detention, in Moscow, Russia April 18, 2023.
REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

Sign up for Semafor Flagship: A global, insightful daily briefing. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

The Biden administration is imposing new sanctions on Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, and the Iranian military’s intelligence organization for their involvement in wrongful detentions of American citizens abroad, senior Biden administration officials told reporters on Thursday.

The penalties are the first the administration has levied under an executive order that President Joe Biden signed last July.

Title icon

Know More

The sanctions on the intelligence organization of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC-IO, will also target four Iranian intelligence officials, including the organization’s commander, Mohammad Kazemi. One of the senior Biden administration officials said the intelligence outfit “frequently holds and interrogates” foreign detainees at Evin Prison, Tehran’s notorious detention facility where three Americans are currently being held.

Both the FSB and the IRGC have been sanctioned by the U.S. under other authorities.

Still, senior officials described the sanctions as part of an effort to hold actors accountable for wrongful detentions and help deter similar behavior going forward.

“Our action is a warning to those around the world who would wrongfully detain U.S. nationals of the potential consequences of their actions,” a second senior official said.

Title icon

Step Back

FSB agents have detained Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, Americans that the U.S. government have classified as wrongfully detained by Russia. Both men, as well as U.S. government officials, have denied Russia’s accusations of spying.

The first senior administration official told reporters Thursday that the sanctions package was “well under way” before Russia detained Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, at the end of March. Whelan, a former Marine who is also a Canadian, British, and Irish citizen, was arrested in Russia at the end of 2018 during the Trump administration.

The Biden administration has come under increasing pressure to secure the release of both men. Officials orchestrated prisoner swaps to free other U.S. citizens detained in Russia, most recently basketball star Brittney Griner.

The senior official said that the administration does not believe the new sanctions will set back ongoing negotiations for the release of Americans.

“Sanctions are meant to change behavior and to incentivize better behavior,” the official said.