Wed | Jun 20, 2018

Putin accuses US of hostile step over Russia sanctions list

Published:Wednesday | January 31, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking during a meeting with his supporters in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, January 30, 2018. (AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday the Trump administration made a "hostile step" when it published a list of Russian businessmen and politicians as part of a sanctions law against Moscow.

The long-awaited US publication appears to be mainly a list of people in Russian government, along with 96 'oligarchs' from a Forbes magazine ranking of Russian billionaires.

The list, ordered by Congress in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, had induced fear among rich Russians that it could lead to US sanctions or being informally blacklisted in the global financial system.

But the United States surprised observers by announcing that it had decided not to punish anybody under the new sanctions, at least for now. Some US lawmakers accused President Donald Trump of giving Russia a free pass, fuelling further questions about whether the president is unwilling to confront Moscow.

Putin, on Tuesday, said Moscow does not want to make the situation even worse.

"We were waiting for this list to come out, and I'm not going to hide it: we were going to take steps in response, and, mind you, serious steps, that could push our relations to the nadir. But we're going to refrain from taking these steps for now," Putin said.

The Russian president said he does not expect the publication to have any impact, but expressed dismay at the scope of the officials and business people listed.

"Ordinary Russian citizens, employees and entire industries are behind each of those people and companies, so all 146 million people have essentially been put on this list," Putin said at a campaign event in Moscow. "What is the point of this? I don't understand."

 

CONTENTS OF THE LIST

 

Russia hawks in Congress had pushed the administration to include certain names, while Russian businessmen hired lobbyists to keep them off.

In the end, the list of 114 Russian politicians released just before a Monday-evening deadline included the whole of Putin's administration, as listed by the Kremlin on its website, plus the Russian cabinet, all top law-enforcement officials and chief executives of the main state-controlled companies.

President Putin even joked on Tuesday that he felt "slighted" that his name was not there.

A companion list of 96 oligarchs is a carbon copy of the Forbes magazine's Russian billionaires' rankings, only arranged alphabetically. It makes no distinction between those who are tied to the Kremlin and those who are not. Some of the people on the list have long fallen out with the Kremlin or are widely considered to have built their fortunes independently of the Russian government.

Officials said more names, including those of less senior politicians and businesspeople worth less than US$1 billion, are on a classified version of the list being provided to Congress. Drawing on US intelligence, the Treasury Department also finalised a list of at least partially state-owned companies in Russia, but that list, too, was classified and sent only to Congress.

The idea of the seven-page unclassified document, as envisioned by Congress, was to name and shame those believed to be benefiting from Putin's tenure, as the United States works to isolate his government diplomatically and economically.

 

TYCOONS ON LIST

 

Every top Russian official, except for Putin, is on the list of 114 senior political figures. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is on it, along with all ministers from the Russian government, all 42 of Putin's aides, and top law-enforcement officials. The CEOs of all major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft and Sberbank, are also on the list.

The oligarchs list includes tycoons Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Putin in the 2012 election. Aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, a figure in the Russia investigation over his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is included.

Less obvious names on the list include Sergei Galitsky, founder of retail chain Magnit, and Arkady Volozh, founder and CEO of the search engine Yandex, and bankers Oleg Tinkov and Ruben Vardanyan. They have been lauded as self-made men who built their successful businesses without any government support.

Some billionaires on the list have fallen out with the Kremlin entirely, like the Ananyev brothers, who fled the country last year and vowed to sue the Russian government after their bank was declared bankrupt.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee for the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, said US intelligence failed to find compromising material on Russian politicians and "ended up copying the Kremlin phone book".

Kosachev criticised the US government for harming Russia-US relations, saying that "the consequences will be toxic and undermine prospects for cooperation for years ahead". He added that the list displays "political paranoia" of the US establishment.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who came to prominence thanks to his investigations into official corruption, tweeted Tuesday that he was glad those on the list "have been officially recognised on the international level as crooks and thieves".

- AP