As promised, the Treasury Department launched new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and organizations today, escalating efforts to isolate Vladimir Putin on the international stage. Unlike other efforts, which have focused on diplomatic responses that have largely been symmetrical, these new sanctions take close aim at Putin’s inner circle — and even his family. The predicate for these new sanctions goes beyond the election meddling in 2016, expanding to include a range of “brazen” actions by Russia including hacking that may have targeted key infrastructure:
The Trump administration took one of its most aggressive actions against Russia on Friday, announcing sweeping sanctions on oligarchs with ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, top officials and several businesses, including a bank and a state-owned weapons trading company.
Senior administration officials said that the sanctions are not aimed to punish Moscow for any particular event, but are instead a broader measure aimed at the “totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly malign activities in the world.”
The Treasury Department, in connection with the State Department, targeted seven Russian oligarchs, and 12 companies they own or control. It also issued sanctions on 17 senior government officials, along with a state-owned weapons trading company and its subsidiary, a Russian bank.
A number of high-profile individuals are targeted in Friday’s action, including the chairman of state-owned Gazprom, Russia’s largest company, the secretary of Russian Security Council, and the director of the national guard troops.
The Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent, Alec Luhn, provides the context for these targets:
The new US sanctions hit people close to Putin. Besides major oligarchs and the head of state gas giant Gazprom, they include:
Putin's childhood judo buddy
Putin's former bodyguards
Putin's friend who succeeded him as head of the FSBhttps://t.co/RtUIuv6DRr
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 6, 2018
ABC gives a little more data on each:
—Kirill Shamalov, who is reportedly Putin’s son-in-law, married to his daughter Katerina Tikhonova, although neither Putin nor the Kremlin have acknowledged that she is his daughter.
—Igor Rotenberg, the son of Arkady Rotenberg, a friend of Putin’s friend since they were teenagers.
—Andrey Kostin, named among government officials, heads the nation’s second-largest bank, VTB, which is controlled by the state.
—Alexei Miller, the longtime head of the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant. Both Miller and Kostin are longtime key members of Putin’s team.
Other oligarchs on the list include some top names on the Forbes’ list of billionaires, aren’t part of Putin’s inner circle but like any other billionaire tycoons in Russia they vie for the Kremlin’s attention to preserve and extend their business empires.
These are the kind of actions where symmetrical response is nearly impossible. Putin and his oligarchs need access to Western banking and markets for security, and this kind of pressure goes directly to Putin’s ability to maintain power. Putin can sanction Western businessmen and restrict their economic activity in Russia, but they don’t need Russia nearly as much as Putin’s cronies need the US. Plus, Russia itself needs outside investors to keep its economy from crumbling, so applying sanctions on those investors will be akin to cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Similar if less dramatic sanctions applied in the aftermath of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine put a big dent in the Russian economy; we’ll see whether these put a dent into the economies of Putin’s political backers.
These sanctions are also in response to the poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal. The UK issued a hopeful statement on Skripal’s condition this morning:
Poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal is “improving rapidly” and no longer critically ill, health officials announced Friday. …
“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” Dr. Christine Blanshard, medical director at Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement issued Friday. …
Blanshard also repeated the news, which had been confirmed Thursday, that Yulia Skripal’s condition had improved to “stable” and that “she can look forward to the day when she is well enough to leave the hospital.”
“Yulia has asked for privacy while she continues to get better,” Blanshard said.
Both Skripal and his daughter Yulia appear to be on their way to recovery. The same cannot be said for their pets:
The British government says two guinea pigs and a cat were victims of the Salisbury poisoning.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says the two rodents were found dead at the home of Sergei Skripal after it was sealed off for investigations.
It said Friday that a cat was also found “in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanize the animal to alleviate its suffering.”
Russia lodged a protest over the decision by British authorities to incinerate the remains of the pets, which … sounds like a pretty good precaution against further contamination. Their representative accused the UK of destroying evidence in the investigation:
On Thursday, in heated exchanges at the UN security council, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia, dismissing the allegation that Russia was behind the poisoning as “absurd”, questioned what had happened to Sergei Skripal’s two cats and two guinea pigs.
“What happened to these animals? Why doesn’t anyone mention them? Their condition is also an important piece of evidence,” he said. …
The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, had also raised the fate of the pets. “Where are the animals? What state are they in?” she asked on Wednesday.
“Why has the British side … not mentioned this fact? We are talking about living organisms, and if toxic agents were used then living organisms must have suffered.”
After Defra, released a statement about the deaths of the animals, Zakharova continued to suggest that an alleged cover-up by the British authorities also extended to Skripal’s pets. “Is that normal practice?” she asked in a Facebook post, claiming the guinea pigs and cat could have been “important evidence in this poisoning case”. She also remarked that Porton Down, the government research facility nearby, had experimented on guinea pigs over the years. “The more we know, the worse the picture looks,” she wrote.
Well, yeah, but not in the way Zakharova intends.