April 9, 2018

IntelBrief: New Sanctions Aimed at Russian Oligarchs 

In this Jan. 26, 2018, photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in Moscow, Russia.  (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP).
  • On April 6, U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced new sanctions against Russian officials and oligarchs, targeting the rich allies of President Putin.
  • The sanctions target 17 government officials, 7 oligarchs and 12 of their companies, and a government weapons firm.
  • It is an open question if the sanctions will put pressure on Putin or push the oligarchs closer to him.
  • The combined weight of Russian provocations and crimes—from Crimea to Salisbury—have galvanized Western governments to act against Russian threats.


On April 6, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the United States was imposing new sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs. Mnuchin advised the sanctions were aimed at disrupting the corrupt synergy of the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs. ‘The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,’ added Mnuchin, and that ‘Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.’

These new sanctions are different than recent ones in that they are specifically aimed at Russia’s circle of powerful oligarchs. The list of those facing sanctions includes Kirill Shamalov, who is Putin’s son-in-law; Igor Rotenberg, who runs the enormous mining firm Gazprom Drilling (Bureniye); Oleg Deripaska, implicated in the ongoing corruption and collusion case of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; and Sergei Gorkov. Also targeted is Rosoboronexport, the state-owned weapons trading firm that had played a large role in the Syrian civil war.

Some in Washington have been pushing for these sanctions, arguing that only when Putin is pressured by his rich peers will he change his cost-benefit analysis. Recent Russian actions, including annexing Crimea, invading eastern Ukraine, blatantly interfering in Western elections, encouraging social and political divisions among European Union members, and attempting to murder one of its former intelligence officers on the street in Salisbury, England, have galvanized Western governments to retaliate. The reasoning behind these targeted sanctions is that they ‘don’t target the Russian people,’ and have the best chance of forcing Putin to stop confrontation with the West. It is uncertain if these sanctions will produce the desired effect; there is always the chance it pushes the oligarchs closer to Putin, who will stress how unfair the West is to Russia’s businessmen. Konstantin Kosachev, a senior member of Russia’s parliament, called the sanctions an ‘unsubstantiated, unfriendly and senseless step.’

The new sanctions come as the targets of Russia’s attempted murder-by-nerve-agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, are no longer in critical condition. The repercussions of that attempt are ongoing. In an April 5 meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Russia warned the United Kingdom that it was ‘playing with fire and they will be sorry’ over its allegations that the Russian government was behind the attempted murder. Last week, 20 governments expelled Russian diplomats/intelligence officers in what is the largest such coordinated move; the U.S. alone expelled 60, though it appears the Russians will be able to refill those positions on a case-by-case basis. President Trump has maintained his silence about Putin, even as the U.S. government is taking serious steps to deter Russia. Russia’s well-documented electoral influencing and disinformation campaigns could affect the U.S. mid-term elections in November.


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