Russians are Baffled by the United States Treasury's Latest Sanctions List

The White House in Moscow, the seat of Russia's government
Credit: Pepijn Schmitz // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

January 29 was set to be a big day in the world of American sanctions against Russia. Earlier in 2017, United States (U.S.) president Donald Trump signed into law the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA), stipulating a host of new sanctions to be applied at the discretion of the White House within 180 days of passage.

CAATSA also mandated the “Kremlin Report” to single out key figures in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s entourage, along with exposing their financial holdings. Russian elites were reportedly thrown into a panic, lobbying to have their names excluded. Yet Russia’s political elite registered a collective smirk at the seemingly toothless unclassified report released on January 30.

The public version was simply a reprinted list of a Forbes’ list of the richest Russian businessmen. Names on the list of Putin’s presidential administration were clearly copied and pasted from the Kremlin’s English-language website.

Sanctions shmanctions

The implementation of sanctions remains a hot-button issue as the Trump administration continues to grapple with accusations of Russian collusion in 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Enforcing sanctions would allow the U.S. to appear ‘tough’ on Russia. CAATSA's deadline to announce new sanctions loomed, but the White House decided to refrain, saying the sanctions already in place were sufficient.

An uproar ensued on social media, but Twitter user Brian O'Toole cautioned:


Once the derivative list of Kremlin political and economic elites was published, Western observers were extremely disappointed:

Others cautioned that the current list was the unclassified version, holding out hope that the classified version reviewed by Congress would be more robust:

List? What list?

At a campaign event for the 2018 Russian presidential elections, Putin approached the list lightheartedly:

Putin: The U.S.A.’s Treasury Department’s list includes all of the President’s administration, the whole government, and all of business. Behind each of these people stand ordinary citizens, the workforce. All of us, 140 million people, have been included in this list!

Yet, he also expressed offense taken:

Tweet text: Putin, on not being included in this list of “America’s enemies”: Listen, it’s offensive!
Video transcription:
Audience member: Practically all of the country’s leadership has been declared “enemies of America”. Well, apart from you, because presumably they aren’t allowed to include you. I’ll finish now.
Putin: (laughing) Listen, it’s offensive!

Several members of the Russian Duma (Assembly) were also offended by the list and declared that they would not attend the U.S. White House Prayer Breakfast in protest.

Sergey Aleksashenko, a former deputy finance minister of Russia, questioned why some individuals had been included and not others possibly more deserving. In response to a list of various government and corporate actors who were not included, the author stated:

Но к составителям списков у меня есть «вопросы», которые говорят о том, что уровень понимания российских реалий в американском разведывательном сообществе опустился ниже плинтуса.

I have questions for the creators of these lists which show that the American intelligence community’s level of understanding of Russian realities has gone down the toilet.

Olesya Shmagun, a reporter and member of the Russian team working on the Panama Papers didn't mince words:

To put it bluntly, the U.S.A. has made itself out to be a laughingstock. Except not the Trump administration, but the liberal camp who is against so-called Russian interference in the elections. The liberal party committee simply pissed their pants.

A colleague of Alexey Navalny — a prominent opposition activist and a presidential hopeful now formally barred from the 2018 elections — at his “Anti-Corruption Foundation” dismissed the report but also reveled in responses from members of the ruling United Russia party:

The “Putin List” is weird and pointless stuff, but it’s so good to see United Russia butts catching fire every 10 minutes, I haven’t seen this kind of thing in a while

Others found humor in the list’s lackluster content as well:

A Russian’s plan for today (and all other days)
1. Woke up
2. Searched for their name on the new U.S. sanctions list
3. Didn’t find it
4. Went off to earn money as compensation for losses for those who did end up on the list.

Cartoonist Sergey Elkin released a new cartoon lampooning the situation, drawing on a notable scene from the classic Soviet film Operation Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures:

Trump (as a police officer): Citizen oligarchs, corrupted officials, billionaires…
Putin Press Secretary Dmitriy Peskov, with Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev at his side: Read off the whole list, please.

The list, comprised of names from directories of sitting officials, did not include former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev who was sentenced to eight years in prison in what some say was a setup by Igor Sechin (who is on the list), Chief Executive Officer of Rosneft (an oil and gas company).

One user saw the silver-lining in Ulyukayev’s prison sentence:

When you slipped off just in time

As U.S. Congress reviews a presumably more substantial classified report, the Trump administration attempts to downplay and deflect attention from the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation.

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