Trump Administration Imposes New Sanctions on Putin Cronies

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April 6, 2018

April 6, 2018

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is shown during a news conference in Turkey on Wednesday. – Burhan Ozbilici/AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on seven of Russia’s richest men and 17 top government officials on Friday in the latest effort to punish President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle for interference in the 2016 election and other Russian aggressions.

The sanctions are designed to penalize some of Russia’s richest industrialists, who are seen in the West as enriching themselves from Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian administration.

They grow out of an oddly disjointed policy toward Russia on the part of the Trump administration: While President Trump continues to call for good relations with Mr. Putin, Congress and much of the rest of the administration are pushing through increasingly punitive efforts that are sinking relations with Moscow to lows not seen in years.

“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

Among those sanctioned are Oleg V. Deripaska, an oligarch who once had close ties to Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Also sanctioned was Suleiman Kerimov — a financier close to Mr. Putin; Vladimir Bogdanov, a top executive of Surgutneftegaz, a Russian oil company; Igor Rotenberg, another oil executive; Kirill Shamalov, an energy executive who married Mr. Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova; Andrei Skoch, a deputy of the Russian Federation’s State Duma; and Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of the Renova Group, a Russian investment firm.

The sanctions have been under consideration for some time and were not imposed solely because of the recent poisoning in England but rather “in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity around the world,” a senior administration official said in a conference call with reporters, adding: “But most importantly this is in response to Russia’s continuing attack to subvert Western democracies.”

The sanctions come just as investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, have begun to question Russian oligarchs about possible financial links between those in Mr. Putin’s orbit and people close to Mr. Trump.

Friday’s sanctions could be particularly painful for Mr. Putin’s regime. While Russia’s oligarchs make nearly all of their money in Russia, many stash their families, lovers and much of their wealth in places like London, New York and Miami.

Targeted sanctions against the oligarchs are seen as a particularly good way to punish Mr. Putin’s aggressive moves while sparing wider Russian society, which is already suffering under Mr. Putin’s thumb.

The sanctions come just three days after Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, in his final speech as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, warned darkly about the growing Russian menace.

“For too long some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats,” he said, adding: “And we have failed to impose sufficient costs.”

The new sanctions grow out of legislation passed by Congress overwhelmingly last year and designed to limit Mr. Trump’s ability to lift sanctions already imposed on Russia. Lawmakers in both parties feared that the president would suspend sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama as he pursued warmer relations with Moscow as promised during his campaign and first year in office.

The Trump administration opposed that legislation but quietly acceded to it after it passed with a veto-proof majority. Within that law was a measure requiring the administration to create a list of Russian oligarchs. Lobbying around the creation of the list became intense as Russia’s wealthiest citizens feared punishing sanctions to come.

That is exactly what happened on Friday.

The sanctions list will only hasten the slide of Washington-Moscow relations. This week, 60 American diplomats left Russia as part of a tit-for-tat series of expulsions that followed the nerve-gas poisoning of Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter.

Mr. Skripal’s poisoning on British soil prompted more than 20 countries to expel more than 100 Russian diplomats and intelligence officers, the largest such coordinated action ever. British officials believe that Mr. Skripal’s poisoning, which occurred after an assassin smeared a nerve agent on the door handle of his home, was such a risky operation that it is unlikely to have been undertaken without approval from the Kremlin.

Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning.

But the attack is seen as part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive moves by Mr. Putin, including the seizure of Crimea, military interventions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, tacit support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks on his own populace, a direct attack by Russian mercenaries on American troops in Syria and the hacking of elections in the United States and Europe.

The Trump administration’s responses to Mr. Putin’s needling have been uneven. Although Congress gave the State Department $120 million in 2016 to counter Russian hacking efforts, the department has so far spent none of it. And Mr. Trump said this week that he wants American forces to leave Syria soon, an exit that would benefit Iran, Russia and its ally, Mr. Assad.

But the administration has also imposed considerable economic penalties on Russia, with Friday’s action the latest in a string of similar moves.

NATO allies are now thinking anew about more coordinated responses to track and sanction Mr. Putin’s cronies. Both the British Parliament and the United States Congress are considering legislation that would require that the owners of companies and properties be disclosed.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in property in cities like London, New York and Miami are estimated to be owned by Russian oligarchs, who use corporate shields and attorney to hide their identities.


Courtesy/Source: NY Times