'Putin will be pissed off': The US's latest round of sanctions hit Russia where it hurts

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  • The US slapped new sanctions Friday on 24 wealthy Russians and government officials, as well as over a dozen Russian-controlled entities.
  • The sanctions cast a wide net by targeting some of the Kremlin’s top allies, and they are likely to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • “The US sanctions list on Putin cronies hits the bullseye of the Putin regime,” wrote Bill Browder, a banker turned human-rights activist and fierce Putin critic. “Since he values money more than human life, this action couldn’t be a more powerful message.”

Washington came out swinging against Moscow when it announced new sanctions Friday against two dozen Russian nationals and 14 Russian entities.

The sanctions target seven Russian oligarchs and 17 senior government officials who are closely aligned with the Kremlin. The US will also penalise 12 companies operated by the sanctioned oligarchs; Rosoboroneksport, a state-owned weapons manufacturer known to have transported arms to the Syrian regime; and Rosoboroneksport’s subsidiary, the Russian Financial Corporation Bank.

Friday’s sanctions pack a big punch for one key reason: they target some of Russia’s wealthiest citizens, many of whom are linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The latest measures follow additional sanctions the US announced against Russia last month. Those sanctions were seen as a primarily symbolic move meant to underscore the US’s solidarity with the UK after it sanctioned Russia in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.

Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence, summed up why the new sanctions are much more substantial: “Putin will be pissed off since these go after key oligarchs & enablers with personal ties to the Kremlin,” he wrote on Twitter.

While previous US sanctions have targeted Putin’s close friends, Carpenter added, “today’s list expands beyond the ‘inner circle’ and gets at some of the key oligarch enablers who have assets in the West. That sends a [message].”

Bill Browder, a banker turned human-rights activist and fierce Putin critic, echoed that view.

“The US sanctions list on Putin cronies hits the bullseye of the Putin regime,” he tweeted. “Putin uses oligarch trustees to hold his illicit wealth. Since he values money more than human life, this action couldn’t be a more powerful message.”

The seven oligarchs added to the list of sanctioned individuals on Friday are: Oleg Deripaska, Suleiman Kerimov, Igor Rotenberg, Kirill Shamalov, Andrei Skoch, Viktor Vekselberg, and Vladimir Bogdanov.

The inclusion of companies controlled by the oligarchs in the US’ latest sanctions will also likely put increased financial pressure on Russia.

Browder said “it doesn’t matter if any of the sanctioned Putin cronies knew” about the coming sanctions in advance.

“Once a person is on the US Treasury sanctions list, no bank in the world will do business with that person. Period. They become financial pariahs,” he said.

Among those targeted in Friday’s sanctions are the children of Putin’s allies, like Igor Rotenberg and Kirill Shamalov. Rotenberg’s father, Arkady, is a Russian oligarch and close friend of Putin who is already under US sanctions. Meanwhile, Shamalov is married to Putin’s daughter and has seen significant financial prosperity since joining the Russian leader’s family.

“These designations will frighten the elite, who assumed kids were off limits,” Carpenter said.

Four names on the list have also surfaced in reports about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia: Deripaska and Vekselberg, both of whom were on the list of sanctioned oligarchs, and Russian banker Alexander Torshin and Russian politician Konstantin Kosachev.

Deripaska is a longtime business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Manafort is said to have offered Deripaska “private briefings” about the campaign in 2016.

Vekselberg attended Trump’s inaugural festivities and is an associate of commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. Two of Vekselberg’s US associates also donated a combined $US1.25 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.

Torshin is being investigated by the FBI for using the National Rifle Association to illegally funnel money to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

And Kosachev was identified in the Trump-Russia dossier as being an important figure in the Trump campaign’s alleged liaison with the Kremlin during the election.

Carpenter said one should “expect the Kremlin to view these sanctions as a hostile act, no matter how much the White House distances itself rhetorically from these actions.”

He added: “The good cop/bad cop shtick is over. So the bottom line here is this is a step in the right direction.”

The US’ latest measures against Russia come after the Trump administration released a list earlier this year of over 200 prominent Russian figures, including 96 oligarchs, who benefited financially under Putin’s presidency.

Lobbyists representing pro-Russia interests mounted an intense campaign to shelve the list’s release in January amid fears from Russia’s wealthiest that it could later be used to target them for sanctions.

On Friday, that’s exactly what happened.

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