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Expert Voices

The Russian oligarch list has little value for sanctions

Leonid Michelson and Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to Novatek CEO Leonid Michelson, who is included on the U.S. Treasury's oligarch list, at an LNG plant in Siberia on December, 8, 2017. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury released this week a long-anticipated report of Russian oligarchs and Kremlin officials, as required by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act signed into law last summer by President Trump. Section 241 of that legislation mandated that Treasury provide a list of senior political figures, oligarchs and "parastatal entities" close to the Kremlin, including an assessment of their net worth.

While there is also a classified version, the public report is basically a "who's who" of Russia — more than 200 individuals, including all the Russian cabinet ministers, presidential aides and 96 of the 200 oligarchs from the Forbes billionaire's list (96 marked the net-worth threshold for inclusion, at $1 billion). There are also individuals on the list who are already sanctioned by the U.S., like Oleg Deripaska, and others who are unlikely ever to face sanctions. (Axios highlighted several of them here.)

By publishing a list that is broad rather than differentiated to include the many proxies and cut-outs that the Kremlin elite use to hide their assets, the administration showed itself to be overcautious as best and incompetent or uncoordinated at worst.

Why it matters: The reaction to the list was swift and critical. Some called it a disgrace, while others suggested that a “real” list expertly curated at the State department was then scrapped as the deadline approached. The Treasury initially defended the list but then, in a surprising statement, seemed to walk back its response, insisting that the classified version was serious and well researched.

What’s next: Amid the confusion and speculation, this may prove either a temporary blip or an insidious attempt to undermine congressionally mandated sanctions.

Alina Polyakova is the David M. Rubenstein Fellow for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.

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