When President Barack Obama announced sanctions on seven Russian individuals Monday, the officials themselves spent most of the day openly mocking the effect they would have. Far from a game-changer, they only served to irritate the officials and provoke threats of retaliation.
On Thursday, the roles shifted. Obama announced more sanctions — and this time, Russia’s retaliatory “sanctions” are the ones being mocked.
The reason: Obama’s sanctions target four of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest inner-circle members. In total, the expanded list of sanctions includes some of his top advisers, some former KGB colleagues, and some entities that could slam both Putin and Russia’s finances.
“They’re being designated for being part of the leadership’s inner circle,” a senior administration official said, “colloquially known as ‘The Cronies.'”
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday outlining a list of officials he said the U.S. should sanction. Many common names showed up on the list Thursday, and four of those were the members of Putin’s “inner circle.” As Navalny described them, they are part of “the Kremlin mafia who pillage the nation’s wealth.”
1. Gennady Timchenko
He is one of the one of the founders of Gunvor, one of the world’s largest independent commodity trading companies involved in the oil and energy markets, and the 12th-richest man in Russia. Putin has investments in the company, a senior Obama administration official said Thursday. Timchenko’s “activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin,” the official said.
In 2009, Timchenko sued The Economist for what he said was a misrepresentation of his relationship with Putin. He was more of Putin’s acquaintance, he said, and not a friend. He eventually dropped the suit.
2, 3. Arkady and Boris Rotenberg
The two brothers are influential Russian businessmen and, according to Navalny, former judo-sparring partners with Putin. The White House said they received approximately $US7 billion in contracts for the Sochi Olympic Games. And their personal wealth has increased by $US2.5 billion in the last two years alone. They made billions on Putin-awarded contracts with Gazprom, the state-controlled energy company. According to Forbes, the brothers are worth $US4 billion and $US1.7 billion, respectively.
4. Yuri Kovalchuk
He is the largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya, which also had sanctions levied on it, as well as Putin’s personal banker. He has a net worth of more than $US1.4 billion, according to Forbes.
The U.S.’s latest punitive measures freeze any assets of sanctioned individuals and entities currently held within U.S. jurisdiction. The sanctions also prohibit Americans from conducting business with those on the list.
There were other important Russians who were among the 20 new individuals listed. Vladimir Yakunin, the chairman of the state-owned company Russian Railways, was there, as was Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff. Most of the individuals and officials on the list have two common traits: They are wealthy, and they are close to Putin.
Obama administration officials warned Russia that if it refuses to de-escalate the situation, more pain would be coming.
“Nobody should believe that this is the end of what we are prepared to do,” a senior administration official said Thursday morning on a conference call with reporters. “It’s only the beginning.”
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