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US Releases List of Russian Oligarchs Close to Putin ahead of Possible Sanctions

US Releases List of Russian Oligarchs Close to Putin ahead of Possible Sanctions

Tuesday, 30 January, 2018 - 10:00
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters)

The US Treasury Department released late on Monday a list of oligarchs and political figures close to President Vladimir Putin and which was drawn up as part of a sanctions package signed into law in August last year.

All those included will not necessarily be subject to sanctions, it casts a potential shadow of sanctions risk over a wide circle of wealthy Russians.

The figures include the heads of the two biggest banks, metals magnates and the boss of the state gas monopoly. Putin’s inner circle is already subject to personal US sanctions, imposed over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

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 Sergei Lavrov, and top officials in Russia's leading spy agencies, the FSB and GRU.

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.

After the release of the report, the ruble opened down 0.1 percent against the dollar, while shares in some of Russia’s biggest companies fell too.

Among the biggest fallers was Norilsk Nickel, down 1.2 percent after its co-owner Vladimir Potanin was included on the US list. Rusal, the world’s second-biggest producer of aluminum, whose co-owner Oleg Deripaska was also on the list, saw its shares tumble 1.4 percent in Hong Kong.

Representatives of many businessmen, including Potanin, Deripaska, metals magnate Alisher Usmanov and Alexei Mordashov, co-owner of Severstal, declined to comment. Some other businessmen are yet to reply to requests for comment.

But Russian market-watchers said the damage from the list was not as great as it could have been.

The list appeared to have been drafted based on oligarchs’ net worth, rather than attempting to establish who is closest to the Kremlin, an exercise that could have made it more toxic for those included. The White House said it would not immediately impose new sanctions on Russia.

The Treasury Department, in a statement accompanying the list, said people had been included on the list based on their net worth and “their closeness to the Russian regime.”

It said inclusion does not denote that people on the list are subject to sanctions or any other restrictions, that they meet the criteria for being put under sanctions, or that they are involved in any malign activity.

Among the businessmen on the list are German Gref, CEO of state-controlled Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, and Andrey Kostin, chief executive of the second-biggest lender, VTB, which is also controlled by the Russian state.

Alexei Miller, CEO of state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom, was also on the list, as was Severstal’s Mordashov and Leonid Mikhelson, co-owner of private gas producer Novatek.

Usmanov, who is part owner of London’s Arsenal football club, and Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of the Moscow-based cyber security company that carries his name, were included on the same list.

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

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that he was not surprised to find his name on the list, too, saying that it "looks like a 'who's who' book."

The Kremlin said that the list shows that the US views the entire Russian government as enemies.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that Moscow would like to take time to analyze the list which he described as "unprecedented" in its scope. Peskov said Russia has yet to understand how individuals on the list, their activities and reputation abroad might be affected.

Although he said Russia should not "give in to emotions" before studying the list and its implications carefully, Peskov pointed out to the name of the law: "On countering America's adversaries through sanctions."

"De-facto everyone has been called an adversary of the United States," he added.

Peskov, as a member of the Kremlin administration, is on the list.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has meanwhile lauded the American administration's list, tweeting that he was "glad that these (people) have been officially recognized on the international level as crooks and thieves."

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