WASHINGTON – The U.S. announced new sanctions Thursday on Russian oligarchs and elites, including some of the richest men in Europe and their families, as well as penalties targeting more Kremlin officials, businessmen linked to President Vladimir Putin and their yachts, aircraft and firms that manage them.
Also included in the announcement by the departments of Treasury, State and Commerce are sanctions on God Nisanov, one of the richest men in Europe, and Alexey Mordashov, one of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires, along with his wife and two adult children.
Mordashev is the main shareholder and chairman of Severstal, Russia’s largest steel and mining company. Acting under earlier sanctions, Italian police seized one of his yachts.
The actions are part of President Joe Biden's promise, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, to pursue Russian elites' “ill-gotten gains" and to ramp up support for the Ukrainians. On Wednesday, the U.S and Germany pledged to equip Ukraine with some of the advanced weapons it has long desired for shooting down aircraft and knocking out artillery, as Russian forces close in on a key city in the east.
“Russia’s elites, up to and including President Putin, rely on complex support networks to hide, move, and maintain their wealth and luxury assets,” Brian Nelson, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial Intelligence, said in a statement.
“We will continue to enforce our sanctions and expose the corrupt systems by which President Putin and his elites enrich themselves,” he said.
Earlier this year, Treasury, the Justice Department and other agencies convened a task force known as REPO — short for Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs — to work with other countries to investigate and prosecute oligarchs and individuals allied with Putin.
Treasury officials have said investigative collaborations with partners in other countries have been imperative to identifying properties across the world.
Imperial Yachts SARL, a Monaco-based yacht brokerage and yachts including the Russia-flagged Graceful and Cayman Islands-flagged Olympia, are identified as blocked property connected to Putin.
A representative from Imperial Yachts said in an emailed statement that “the accusations made against us by the U.S. Government and in the press are false. We will pursue all available legal remedies to resolve this matter promptly." The company added that "we are not involved in our clients’ financial affairs.”
Others included in the latest round of sanctions are Yury Slyusar, president of United Aircraft Corp.; Vitaly Savelyev, Russia’s transport minister; Maxim Reshetnikov, the country’s minister of economic development; Irek Envarovich Faizullin, the minister of construction, housing and utilities; and Dmitriy Yuryevich Grigorenkothe, deputy prime minister and chief of the government staff.
The Commerce Department added 71 more people and entities located in Russia and Belarus to its sanctions list, with the intent of restricting the Russian military’s ability to obtain technologies needed to further its invasion.
The U.S. has worked closely with allied governments in Europe, Asia and elsewhere to impose thousands of sanctions on Russian elites, oligarchs and banks. Allied governments have done everything from barring individuals from trading in Russian gold in the U.S. to banning companies from providing accounting, legal and consulting services to anyone located in Russia.
Western allies have also begun considering whether to allow Russian oligarchs to buy their way out of sanctions and using the money to rebuild Ukraine, according to government officials familiar with the matter.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters at the Group of Seven finance ministers' meetings in Germany this month that more options are on the table to reduce Russia's influence — including secondary sanctions or forming an oil buyer's cartel.
“There are a lot of possibilities here and nothing has converged,” she said.
Until recently, the U.S. and EU have largely allowed Russia's oil and natural gas to continue to flow freely to the rest of the world. However, EU leaders agreed late Monday to cut Russian oil imports by about 90% over the next six months, a move that was considered unthinkable just months ago.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “Ukraine is fighting valiantly to defend its people and its independence with unprecedented assistance from the United States and countries around the world. The United States will continue to support the people of Ukraine while promoting accountability for President Putin and those enabling Russian aggression.”
Nate Sibley, a research fellow at Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative, said the U.S. could do more to impose sanctions on wealthy Russians, including Vladimir Potanin, who is the richest documented person in Russia worth roughly $30 billion, and Roman Abramovich, who recently sold his stake in Chelsea, a Premier League football club in London.
The European Union Council has imposed sanctions on Abramovich, which he is fighting in court. Potanin has largely escaped sanctions.
“It begs the question, why is U.S. Treasury dragging its feet on this,” Sibley said.