In the Thick of It

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Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.

Snapshot Analysis: Don't Dismiss Potential Implications of Treasury's Russia List Just Yet

January 30, 2018
Simon Saradzhyan

Just 12 minutes before the deadline, the U.S. treasury published a list of “Senior Foreign Political Figures and Oligarchs in the Russian Federation and Russian Parastatal Entities” which the Trump administration was supposed to supply to the U.S. Congress in compliance with the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA). Some Russian insiders were quick to dismiss the list of 210 names, which includes Russia’s richest persons and top Russian government officials, describing it as a compilation copied and pasted from the Forbes list of Russian billionaires and the Kremlin’s phone book. Markets also largely ignored the publication. In fact, it was clear as early as last week that they would (see the “Bilateral issues” section in the Jan. 26 issue of our Russia in Review digest). Moreover, investors were so relieved that no new punitive measures were announced that they pushed yields on Russian 10-year bonds to the lowest levels in five years, following the publication of the list, according to Bloomberg. They did so for a good reason: While unveiling the list, the Trump administration chose not to impose any new sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, arguing CAATSA is already causing pain by deterring billions in Russian arms exports. However, one should not dismiss this development entirely. First, in addition to the public portion of the list, there’s apparently a separate, classified portion, which contains more names, including those of less-senior political figures and businesspeople with less than $1 billion in assets, and which may outline their involvement in corrupt activities, according to RFE/RL and Financial Times. Second, the very publication of the list will keep potential foreign business partners from doing business with those on the list. Third, while the Trump administration’s present abstention from sanctioning anyone on either the public or secret portions of the list (with the exception of those who have been sanctioned earlier) is good news for those who want to stop further deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations, this does not mean sanctions won’t be imposed in the future, especially if Congress applies pressure. In fact, while unveiling the list, the Treasury warned that it has the right to use "all available sources of information," including classified versions of the report, when making decisions about additional sanctions, according to the Wall Street Journal.

See below for the RM staff’s selection of highlights from the Russia list’s publication coverage as of Jan. 30 afternoon.

Who Is and Is Not on the List

  • The list, which the Treasury released in the late evening of Jan. 29, contains 210 names viewed as close to Putin’s government. Russians with a net worth of more than $1 billion were included in the list of 96 oligarchs, according to the document. 114 others, including senior Kremlin and government officials, as well as CEOs of state companies, were also named. (Bloomberg, 01.30.18)
  • The officials on the list include 43 of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aides and advisers including Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, 31 cabinet ministers including Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, senior lawmakers and top officials in Russia's intelligence agencies. The list omitted a few liberal-minded senior officials, including central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina, Rusnano chief Anatoly Chubais and Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister who advises Putin on the economy. (Financial Times, 01.30.18, RFE/RL, 01.30.18)
  • The 96 people on the oligarch list correspond exactly to the 96 billionaires on last year’s Forbes list of Russian billionaires. The tycoons on the list include Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov, U.S. NBA basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov, aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and Kaspersky Lab founder Yevgeny Kaspersky. The list also included a few businessmen with no obvious links to the Kremlin, including Yandex’s Arkady Volozh, supermarket magnate Sergei Galitsky and online bank entrepreneur Oleg Tinkov. The CEOs of major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft's chief, Igor Sechin, and the head of state-controlled Sberbank, German Gref, are also on the list. (RFE/RL, 01.30.18, RFE/RL, 01.30.18, Financial Times, 01.30.18)

Markets’ and Businesses’ Reaction

  • The Moscow exchange’s equity index, which includes companies controlled by nearly all the men listed, went up four points on Jan. 30 after the report was published. The Moscow Stock Exchange’s dollar-denominated RTS index was up 1.15 percent at 1,290.21 points as of 1217 GMT after briefly touching its lowest since Jan. 19 at 1,266.48. The ruble-based MOEX Russian index, previously known as MICEX, was 0.3 percent higher at 2,290.19 points, inching toward an all-time high of 2,328.48 it hit last week. (Reuters, 01.30.18, Financial Times, 01.30.18)
  • Relieved investors pushed yields on Russian 10-year bonds to the lowest levels in five years as the Treasury provided no details on a separate report on the effect of expanding sanctions to Russian sovereign debt. (Bloomberg, 01.30.18)
  • The ruble opened down 0.1 percent against the dollar on Jan. 30. Shares in some big companies fell, although Russian stocks and the ruble later edged higher overall. Norilsk Nickel was down 1.2 percent after its co-owner Vladimir Potanin was included on the U.S. list. Aluminum giant Rusal, whose co-owner Oleg Deripaska was also named, saw its shares tumble 1.4 percent in Hong Kong. (Reuters, 01.30.18)
  • IPSCO Tubulars, the U.S. subsidiary of Russia’s largest maker of steel pipes for the oil and gas industry TMK, said on Jan. 29 it launched an initial public offering (IPO) of its common stock. TMK chairman Dmitry Pumpyanskiy has been included on the U.S. Treasury’s list. (Reuters, 01.29.18, Interfax, 01.30.18)
  • Credit Bank of Moscow, whose owner Roman Avdeev is one of the people on the list, said that it would launch a U.S. roadshow for a dollar-denominated bond later this week. Vladimir Yevtushenkov, owner of the Sistema conglomerate, said he saw “no risks” for his business. (Financial Times, 01.30.18)
  • Russia’s economy has gained enough resilience to withstand new Western sanctions and the country’s sovereign rating may be upgraded by the end of the year, Kristin Lindow, a senior vice president at Moody’s Investor Service, said in an interview. “Our analysis is that the economy and public finances are in good shape and can withstand new sanctions,” Lindow told Reuters late on Jan. 29. (Reuters, 01.30.18)
  • “We believe that the current U.S. approach significantly diminishes the risk of harsh measures against Russian sovereign debt over the short term,” Societe Generale SA analysts led by Phoenix Kalen said in a note. (Bloomberg, 01.30.18)

Reaction in Russia

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said a list of Kremlin-connected individuals released by the U.S. Treasury was a "hostile step" and an affront to all Russians that would harm bilateral relations. “In effect, all 146 million of us have been put on some list,” he said, calling it “indisputably an unfriendly act.” However, he dismissed its impact as an empty threat. Describing the Treasury report as “nonsense” that would “reduce our bilateral relationship to zero,” Putin mocked the U.S. for bundling together North Korea, Iran and Russia as threats while asking Moscow for help in dealing with Tehran and Pyongyang. "I won't hide it: we were waiting for this report. We were ready to take steps—serious ones that would have brought our relations to nothing," Putin said. Joking that it was “offensive” that he wasn’t included, Putin told a campaign event that Russia will “refrain for the moment” from implementing serious retaliatory measures it has prepared. "We do not intend to … escalate the situation," Putin said at a meeting with backers of his sure-thing reelection campaign. "We want and intend to patiently build relations to whatever degree the other side—the American side—is ready." (Financial Times, 01.30.18, RFE/RL, 01.30.18, Bloomberg, 01.30.18, AP, 01.30.18)
  • "The importance of this list is null," said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who then added a joke: "I believe in this case not being included on this list provides grounds for resignation." Medvedev also said the list was "absolutely discriminatory" and would "poison our ties, our relations for quite a long period of time—which is bad in itself." (RFE/RL, 01.30.18, The Washington Post, 01.30.18)
  • Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, said the Jan. 29 publication of the U.S. list of Russian officials and businessmen as part of a sanctions law shows that the United States views the entire Russian government as enemies. "De facto, everyone [on the list] is being called an enemy of the United States," Peskov said on Jan. 30. (AP, 01.30.18, RFE/RL, 01.30.18)
  • A spokesman for Rosneft’s Igor Sechin, who is already subject to U.S. sanctions imposed in 2014, said the list was based on “vicious principles.” (Financial Times, 01.30.18)
  • Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich has dismissed the Trump administration's list of Russian politicians and businessmen as simply a "who's who" of Russian politics. (AP, 01.30.18)
  • Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament says the Jan. 29 publication of the list of Russian officials and businessmen as part of a U.S. law on sanctions against Russia is an attempt to influence Russia's upcoming presidential vote. (AP, 01.30.18)
  • A senior Russian lawmaker has described the Trump administration's list of politicians and business figures released late on Jan. 29 as "political paranoia which, it turns out, is very hard to cure." In a Facebook post Jan. 30, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council's foreign affairs committee, said U.S. intelligence failed to find compromising material on Russian politicians and "ended up copying the Kremlin phone book." (AP, 01.30.18)
  • A Russian businessman who is on the Trump administration's list of Russian politicians and businessmen, released as part of a U.S. law aimed at punishing Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, says he will nevertheless advocate for better ties with the West. Boris Titov, presidential ombudsman for business, is on the list along with two other Russian presidential envoys for human rights. (AP, 01.30.18)
  • "One does not have to be very smart to make this list," Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin Human Rights Council, told the news agency Interfax. He was also on the list. (The Washington Post, 01.30.18)
  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has lauded the Trump administration's list of Russian oligarchs and politicians as a "good list." (AP, 01.30.18)
  • Evgeny Kaspersky, whose cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab was recently banned from supplying U.S. government agencies under separate action, tweeted: “Calling all successful businessmen from the Forbes ratings ‘oligarchs’ is incorrect. I believe @BillGates @WarrenBuffett & @JeffBezos would agree with me here.” (Financial Times, 01.30.18)

Reaction in the U.S. and Other Countries

  •  “The State Department claims that the mere threat of sanctions will deter Russia’s aggressive behavior. How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway? It just doesn’t make sense,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’m fed up waiting for this Administration to protect our country and our elections,” he said in a statement. (Reuters, 01.30.18)
  • “By naming the whole Russian government, presidential administration and all Russian billionaires, the Trump administration has undermined and ridiculed the U.S. sanctions on Russia,” Anders Aslund, an economist and frequent Putin critic who had published recommendations for the list before its release, wrote on Twitter. (Bloomberg, 01.30.18)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised the United States in a tweet on Jan. 30, expressing "sincere gratitude to Washington" for what he called its "demonstration of leadership in countering Russian aggression." (RFE/RL, 01.30.18)

Simon Saradzhyan is the director of the Russia Matters project.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.