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US releases list of Putin officials, oligarchs for possible sanctions

© Natalia Kolesnikova, AFP | Moscow's iconic Red Square, with St.Basil's Cathedral (left) and the Kremlin (right) in the background.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-01-30

The US Treasury on Tuesday released a long-awaited list of Russian officials and business leaders eligible for sanctions, in a move Russia’s Vladimir Putin criticised as an “unfriendly” act that will harm already strained relations.

The list of 210 people, including 96 'oligarchs' with wealth of $1 billion or more, was drawn up as part of a sanctions package, signed into law last year, designed to punish Moscow for its alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.

The document said it was not a new sanctions list and that inclusion "in no way" means those named are likely to be sanctioned. Although it is unclear what it will mean in practice, it will cast the shadow of potential sanctions risk over a wide circle of wealthy Russians.

Responding to the list’s publication, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the US document was a “stupid” and “unfriendly” act, though adding that his administration did not plan to retaliate at once.

"It is, of course, an unfriendly act. It will complicate the difficult situation Russian-American relations are already in, and of course harm international relations as a whole," Putin said at a meeting with election campaign officials in Moscow.

"We were waiting for this list, and I will not hide it, were ready to take retaliatory steps, serious ones, which would have reduced our relations to zero," Putin said, before adding: "For now, we will refrain from these steps. But we will carefully watch how the situation develops.”

'Not a sanctions list, but a warning'

The Russian president’s inner circle is already subject to personal US sanctions imposed over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, although Putin himself is not on either list and nor is central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina.

The White House said on Monday it would not immediately impose new sanctions on Russia.

Mirroring Forbes’ list

The 2017 sanctions package that led to the compilation of the "oligarchs' list" was prompted partly by Washington's belief that Russia meddled in the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump. The Kremlin denies these allegations.

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

The list covers people beyond Putin's circle and reaches deep into Russia's business elite. It mirrors a Forbes magazine ranking of Russia's wealthiest people published last year, which estimated the total wealth of the oligarchs listed at almost $400 billion.

A Western banker who is currently involved in a deal with a person named on the list said it was unclear what inclusion meant. "If all these people were banned, 80 percent of deals (with Russian firms) will stall," he said.

The names included German Gref, CEO of Sberbank, Russia's biggest lender, and Andrey Kostin, chief executive of No. 2 bank VTB. Both lenders are state-controlled.

Alexei Miller, CEO of state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom, was also on the list, as were Leonid Mikhelson, co-owner of private gas producer Novatek, and Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of the Moscow-based cyber security company that carries his name.

"I believe the people behind the list don’t understand the meaning of the word 'oligarch' otherwise wouldn’t include me and other successful businessmen with no ties to the government," Kaspersky wrote on Twitter. He said his company's operations were unaffected.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)

Date created : 2018-01-30

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