One of the world’s leading advocates for increased sanctions against the Russian government is praising President Donald Trump’s administration’s move to sanction 38 Russian oligarchs, government officials or government-controlled companies.
“One cannot overstate how significant these sanctions are in terms of Putin and his cronies,” Bill Browder, a London-based financier and human rights activist, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“This will definitely make Putin think twice about doing things further to America because there’s still a long list of his oligarchs who have yet to be sanctioned.”
On Friday, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned seven Russian oligarchs, 12 of their companies, 17 senior Russian government officials, and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company.
The move comes a week after Trump’s administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats and intelligence officers in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy who defected to the United Kingdom. In all, Trump’s administration has sanctioned 189 individuals and entities.
In announcing the latest sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cited Russia’s occupation of Crimea, its support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and its attempts at “subvert[ing] Western democracies” through cyber-hacking activities as reasons for the new penalties.
“Russian oligarchs and elites, who profit from this corrupt system, will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” Mnuchin said.
Browder, a former Putin supporter, compared the latest sanctions to those enacted in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea against a group of oligarchs, including Gennady Timchenko.
“This is much, much bigger because we’ve gone after the very wealthiest and most visible oligarchs,” Browder told TheDCNF.
“What makes it particularly significant is they haven’t just gone after the oligarchs, but they’ve actually gone after their companies.”
He provided a hypothetical example of a Japanese manufacturer who would be hesitant to contract with a company like Rusal, the aluminum company Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska controls. Deripaska’s also a Putin crony included on the new list.
If the company or an international bank did business with Deripaska or Rusal, it would face fines of up to three times the amount of the underlying transaction.
“As a result of that, nobody in the world is going to want to be in violation of these sanctions,” Browder said.
“All of a sudden, these oligarch’s worlds shrink just down to rogue regimes where people aren’t worried about sanctions.”
Browder has been the leading force behind the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law blacklisting Russians accused of human rights abuses. The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who worked for Browder until his mysterious death in a Russian prison in 2009. Magnitsky was jailed while investigating a $230 million money laundering scheme involving a Russian organized crime group.
Browder, who was once Russia’s largest outside investor, has become one of the Russian government’s biggest targets because of his international campaign to pass the Magnitsky Act and related laws. The Kremlin has issued several international arrest warrants, “Red Notices,” for Browder.
Deripaska, a close Putin associate, is perhaps the most prominent name on the sanctions list.
The billionaire is also a former business partner of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. He may also have links to former British spy and dossier author Christopher Steele. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley recently inquired with two of Deripaska’s lawyers about a possible relationship to Steele.
Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, is also on the sanctions list.
Torshin has been in the news over the past year because of his links to the National Rifle Association. He is a lifetime member of the gun rights group and helped found Russia-based group Right to Bear Arms.
Prior to the 2016 election, several Republican political operatives attempted to set up a meeting between Torshin and Donald Trump. The meeting did not occur, and there is no evidence Torshin or the Trump campaign ever made direct contact. But congressional investigators have questioned whether the outreach was an attempt at election-related collusion.
Viktor Vekselberg is another high-profile oligarch on the sanctions list. He is the chairman of the Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate that does business in the energy sector. Rosoboroneksport, a government-owned weapons company, is also listed. The firm has done billions of dollars in business with Syria, according to the Treasury Department.