On January 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is running for a fourth term in an election this year, responded to the new U.S. sanctions list at a campaign event, equating the list of 200 to “average Russians.”
The U.S. released the unclassified list, which included 96 wealthy businessmen or “oligarchs” and 114 government officials.
The report names top government officials and business leaders with political connections that the U.S. government claims have prospered under Putin.
“What a shame!” said Putin to a burst of laughter on why he didn’t make the “oligarchs list.” “Behind every member of the list stand ordinary citizens of our country,” said Putin. “As a matter of fact, all of us, all 146 million, have been put on some kind of list. I don’t understand the point of this, but it is undoubtedly an unfriendly act, which is harmful to the development of our relationship as a whole.”
Business leaders on the list seem to represent a who’s who of the wealthiest Russians.
Igor Sechin, one of Russia’s richest men, is the CEO of the Russian government-owned oil company Rosneft, with a monthly salary of about $350,000 according to a report on top-management compensation Rosneft published in 2015.
Russia’s richest oligarch and aluminum tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, who is worth an estimated $7 billion, also made the list.
Vladimir Putin, did not make the list, despite speculation that his personal wealth reaches as high as $200 billion.
In December 2016, the European investment company CEIC, listed Russia’s annual per capita household income at around $5,500, while retirement payments are only about $240 per month.
An average senior citizen in Russia averaged $234 per month in 2017.
The sanctions against Russia and the “oligarchs list” are controversial among U. S. politicians. President Donald Trump criticized the congressionally-mandated list when he reluctantly signed the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act." He said it "improperly encroaches on executive power, disadvantages American companies and hurts the interests of our European allies."
Journalists and analysts have noted that the “oligarchs list” put out by U.S. Treasury Department “bears a striking resemblance” to Forbes Magazine’s 2017 rundown of Russia’s richest citizens.
Swedish economist Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, accuses “somebody high up” in Treasury of throwing out the work of experts and simply copying the Forbes list.
“In doing so, this senior official ridiculed the government experts who had prepared another report … mocking U.S. sanctions on Russia overall,” wrote Aslund on his Atlantic Council blog. “By signing this list, the secretary of the treasury took responsibility for it.”
"Congress passed sanctions on Russia overwhelmingly to send a message on Russian interference in our democracy. The president doesn't appear to want to send that message," U.S. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, wrote on Twitter.
"We’ve always known that corruption is key to Vladimir Putin’s continued power and the funding for his dangerous and destabilizing foreign policies," said Rep. Edward Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, following release of the list.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny hailed the publication of the list, tweeting Tuesday that he was “glad to see these [people] have been officially recognized as crooks and thieves at the international level.”
The U.S. domestic dispute over sanctions on Russia aside, the gulf between the wealth of average Russians earnings and Russia’s “oligarchs” is immense.