Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the Trump administration made a “hostile step” when it published a list of Russian businessmen and politicians as part of a sanctions law against Moscow.
The long-awaited U.S. publication appears to be mainly a list of people in Russian government, along with 96 “oligarchs” from a Forbes magazine ranking of Russian billionaires.
The list, ordered by Congress in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, had induced fear among rich Russians that it could lead to U.S. sanctions or being informally blacklisted in the global financial system.
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But the U.S. surprised observers by announcing that it had decided not to punish anybody under the new sanctions, at least for now. Some U.S. lawmakers accused President Donald Trump of giving Russia a free pass, fueling further questions about whether the president is unwilling to confront Moscow.
Putin on Tuesday referred to the list as a “hostile step” — but said Moscow does not want to make the situation even worse.
“We were waiting for this list to come out, and I’m not going to hide it: we were going to take steps in response, and, mind you, serious steps, that could push our relations to the nadir. But we’re going to refrain from taking these steps for now,” Putin said.
The Russian president said he does not expect the publication to have any impact but expressed dismay at the scope of the officials and business people listed.
“Ordinary Russian citizens, employees and entire industries are behind each of those people and companies, so all 146 million people have essentially been put on this list,” Putin said at a campaign event in Moscow. “What is the point of this? I don’t understand.”
Russia hawks in Congress had pushed the administration to include certain names, while Russian businessmen hired lobbyists to keep them off.
In the end, the list of 114 Russian politicians released just before a Monday evening deadline included the whole of Putin’s administration, as listed by the Kremlin on its website, plus the Russian cabinet, all top law enforcement officials and chief executives of the main state-controlled companies.
President Putin even joked on Tuesday that he felt “slighted” that his name wasn’t there.
A companion list of 96 “oligarchs” is a carbon copy of the Forbes magazine’s Russian billionaires’ rankings, only arranged alphabetically. It makes no distinction between those who are tied to the Kremlin and those who are not. Some of the people on the list have long fallen out with the Kremlin or are widely considered to have built their fortunes independently of the Russian government.
Officials said more names, including those of less senior politicians and businesspeople worth less than $1 billion, are on a classified version of the list being provided to Congress. Drawing on U.S. intelligence, the Treasury Department also finalized a list of at least partially state-owned companies in Russia, but that list, too, was classified and sent only to Congress.
The idea of the seven-page unclassified document, as envisioned by Congress, was to name-and-shame those believed to be benefiting from Putin’s tenure, as the United States works to isolate his government diplomatically and economically.
Every top Russian official except for Putin is on the list of 114 senior political figures. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is on it, along with all ministers from the Russian government, all 42 of Putin’s aides, and top law enforcement officials. The CEOs of all major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft and Sberbank, are also on the list.
The oligarchs list includes tycoons Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Putin in the 2012 election. Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a figure in the Russia investigation over his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is included.
Less obvious names on the list include Sergei Galitsky, founder of retail chain Magnit, and Arkady Volozh, founder and CEO of the search engine Yandex, and bankers Oleg Tinkov and Ruben Vardanyan. They have been lauded as self-made men who built their successful businesses without any government support.
Some billionaires on the list have fallen out with the Kremlin entirely, like the Ananyev brothers, who fled the country last year and vowed to sue the Russian government after their bank was declared bankrupt.
The list shows that the United States views the entire Russian government as enemies, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov — himself on the list — told reporters on Tuesday.
Although he said Russia should not “give in to emotions” before studying the list and its implications carefully, Peskov pointed out 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 said.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee for the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, said U.S. intelligence failed to find compromising material on Russian politicians and “ended up copying the Kremlin phone book.”
Kosachev criticized the U.S. government for harming Russia-U.S. relations, saying that “the consequences will be toxic and undermine prospects for cooperation for years ahead. He added that the list displays “political paranoia” of the U.S. establishment.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who came to prominence thanks to his investigations into official corruption, tweeted Tuesday that he was “glad that these (people) have been officially recognized on the international level as crooks and thieves.” Navalny in his investigations has exposed what he described as close ties between government officials and some of the billionaires on the list.
The list’s release was likely to at least partially defuse the disappointment from some U.S. lawmakers that Trump’s administration opted against targeting anyone with new Russia sanctions that took effect Monday.
Under the same law that authorized the “Putin list,” the government was required to slap sanctions on anyone doing “significant” business with people linked to Russia’s defense and intelligence agencies, using a blacklist the U.S. released in October. But the administration decided it didn’t need to penalize anyone, even though several countries have had multibillion-dollar arms deals with Russia in the works.
State Department officials said the threat of sanctions had been deterrent enough, and that “sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed.”
Companies or foreign governments that had been doing business with blacklisted Russian entities had been given a three-month grace period to extricate themselves from transactions, starting in October when the blacklist was published and ending Monday. But only those engaged in “significant transactions” are to be punished, and the U.S. has never defined that term or given a dollar figure. That ambiguity has made it impossible for the public to know exactly what is and isn’t permissible.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lambasted the move to punish no one, saying he was “fed up” and that Trump’s administration had chosen to “let Russia off the hook yet again.” He dismissed the State Department’s claim that “the mere threat of sanctions” would stop Moscow from further meddling in America’s elections.
“How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway?” Engel said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”