U.S. issues 'Putin list' of Russian politicians, oligarchs

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks to the media Tuesday during his meeting with his supporters in Moscow. The Trump administration has released a list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 "oligarchs" it says are linked to Putin, but it's decided not to issue any extra sanctions for now.
Pavel Golovkin ~ Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration late Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 "oligarchs" who have flourished under President Vladimir Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

The political list is the entire presidential administration, as listed on the Kremlin website, and the Russian Cabinet, while the oligarchs list is a carbon copy of the top of Forbes magazine's Russian billionaires' list. The publication of the so-called "Putin list" angered and dismayed many in Moscow.

Yet the administration paired the move with a surprising announcement it had decided not to punish anybody -- for now -- under new sanctions retaliating for the election-meddling. Some U.S. lawmakers accused President Donald Trump of giving Russia a free pass, fueling further questions about whether the president is unwilling to confront Moscow.

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

Being on the list doesn't trigger any U.S. sanctions on the individuals, although more than a dozen are already targeted under earlier sanctions.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is among the 114 senior political figures in Russia's government who made the list, along with 42 of Putin's aides, Cabinet ministers such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and top officials in Russia's leading spy agencies, the FSB and GRU. The CEOs of major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft and Sberbank, are also on the list.

So are 96 wealthy Russians deemed "oligarchs" by the Treasury Department, which said each is believed to have assets totaling $1 billion or more. Some are the most famous of wealthy Russians, among them tycoons Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Putin in the 2012 election. Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a figure in the Russia investigation over his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is included.

There are also odd ones out on the list, however, such as Sergei Galitsky, founder of retail chain Magnit, and Arkady Volozh, founder and CEO of the search engine Yandex. Both have been lauded as self-made men who built their successful businesses without any government support.

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

Russian politicians have expressed dismay at finding the list included the entire Russian government.

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told Russian news agencies on Tuesday he was not surprised to find his name on the list, too, saying it "looks like a 'who's who' book." Dvorkovich stopped short of saying how Russia would react to it, saying the government would "monitor the situation."

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council's foreign affairs committee, said U.S. intelligence failed to find compromising material on Russian politicians and "ended up copying the Kremlin phone book."

Kosachev criticized the U.S. government for harming Russia-U.S. relations, saying "the consequences will be toxic and undermine prospects for cooperation for years ahead," adding that the list displays "political paranoia" of the U.S. establishment.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who came to prominence thanks to his investigations into official corruption, tweeted on Tuesday he was "glad that these (people) have been officially recognized on the international level as crooks and thieves." Navalny in his investigations has exposed what he described as close ties between government officials and some of the billionaires on the list.

In the works for months, the list has induced fear among rich Russians who are concerned it could lead to U.S. sanctions or to being informally blacklisted in the global financial system. It triggered a fierce lobbying campaign, with Russia hawks in Congress pushing the administration to include certain names and lobbyists hired by Russian businessmen urging the administration to keep their clients off.

The list's release was likely to at least partially defuse the disappointment from some lawmakers Trump's administration opted against targeting anyone with new Russia sanctions that took effect Monday.

Under the same law authorizing the "Putin list," the government was required to slap sanctions on anyone doing "significant" business with people linked to Russia's defense and intelligence agencies, using a blacklist the U.S. released in October. But the administration decided it didn't need to penalize anyone, even though several countries have had multibillion-dollar arms deals with Russia in the works.

State Department officials said the threat of sanctions had been deterrent enough and "sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed."

"We estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. She did not provide evidence or cite any examples.

Companies or foreign governments doing business with blacklisted Russian entities had been given a three-month grace period to extricate themselves from transactions, starting in October when the blacklist was published and ending Monday. But only those engaged in "significant transactions" are to be punished, and the United States has never defined the term or given a dollar figure. Such ambiguity has made it impossible for the public to know exactly what is and isn't permissible.

New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lambasted the move to punish no one, saying he was "fed up" and Trump's administration had chosen to "let Russia off the hook yet again."

"How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that's already underway?" Engel said. "It just doesn't make sense."

Comments