* Washington includes 20 prominent Russian business men to
* Gunvor-founder Timchenko included in list; US says close
* Crude weighed by stronger U.S. dollar, seasonal slump in
By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
SINGAPORE, March 21 Brent crude fell towards
$106 per barrel on Friday, on track for a fourth weekly loss
weighed down by a stronger dollar and seasonal slump in demand,
while fresh U.S. sanctions against Russia could inject a new
risk premium into the market.
Brent rose on Thursday after Washington expanded sanctions
to 20 more prominent Russians, including allies of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, in the latest sign of mounting
tensions over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.
On Friday, Brent was down 20 cents at $106.25 per
barrel by 0320 GMT, after settling 60 cents higher.
U.S. crude was 38 cents lower at $98.52 per barrel.
Crude for May delivery, which became the front-month contract on
Friday, had settled 27 cents lower. The U.S. contract was headed
for its third weekly loss.
"Brent has approached the lower band of its $105-$110
trading range, which yesterday incentivised investors to come
into the market. So we are seeing a bit of profit taking this
morning," said Chee Tat Tan.
"Also, the dollar has regained some momentum and this
strengthening has hurt some external demand for crude oil," said
The greenback was underpinned near a three-week high by a
spike in U.S. bond yields. Against a basket of major currencies,
the U.S. dollar was trading at 80.161, not far from the
high of 80.354, a level not seen since late February.
A strong dollar makes commodities priced in the currency
expensive for holders of other currencies.
While the West has failed to impose broad trade sanctions
against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region,
the United States on Thursday moved to expand a sanctions list
to include Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, co-founder of
Swiss trading firm Gunvor and considered by Washington to be a
close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
Gunvor, which had a turnover of $93 billion in 2012, grew
rapidly by trading large volumes of oil from Russian state
companies such as Rosneft at the end of last decade,
but has since then ceded its leading positions and now focuses
on trading in Europe and Asia.
"Timchenko activities in the energy sector have been
directly linked to Putin. Putin has investments in Gunvor and
may have access to Gunvor funds," the U.S. Treasury said in a
The move forced Timchenko to sell his near 50 percent stake
in the trading empire.
President Barack Obama threatened broad penalties against
key sectors of Russia's economy if Moscow moves deeper into
Ukraine. Senior administration officials said many parts of the
Russian economy could be targeted, including energy, defence,
mining and financial services sectors.
Meanwhile, European leaders will agree to expand a list of
those subject to travel bans and asset freezes on Thursday but
stop short of harder-hitting measures against Russia, biding
their time to retain EU unity and gauge Moscow's reaction.
(Reporting By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Michael