On 17 March, the US and EU sanctioned a few Russians, a few Ukrainaians, and a few Crimeans over the security situation in Crimea. These new sanctions are viewed as an extension of the 6 March sanctions, which apparently terrifed Putin so much that he decided to go ahead with the Crimea referendum anyway. And the new ones are even more frightening, so Russian press is reporting that Russia is going to proceed with the annexation of Crimea tomorrow anyway.
This latest round of sanctions blocks “all property and interests in property” of these individuals in the US, and also bans them from entering the US. The individuals who were sanctioned are high-ranking officials, but not the highest. Wealthy – but not the wealthiest. So it’s no surprise that Russia doesn’t seem too perturbed. Here’s a breakdown:
Vladislav Surkov, Presidential Aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin: Surkov is kind of like Putin’s Karl Rove. Supposedly considered Putin’s “chief ideologist“, he coined the phrase “sovereign democracy” and has been described as a “puppet master” but was forced to resign in May 2013 after failing to anticipate the anti-Putin protests of 2011 and 2012. He was reappointed in September to deal with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Sergey Glazyev, Presidential Adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin: Glazyev, an economist by trade, consistently argued that Ukraine had more options than just the EU during the course of his work of developing the Eurasian Customs Union. However, in early February, he called for force to be used to disperse the protestors in the Maidan.
Leonid Slutsky, State Duma Deputy: Slutsky is the chairman of the Duma Committee on Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots. Slutsky has been outspoken in his support for Russia’s actions in Crimea.
Andrei Klishas, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee of Constitutional Law, Judicial, and Legal Affairs, and the Development of Civil Society: Klishas is a businessman and politician. He was appointed to the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation in 2012. Klishas was the author of a bill in early March that would allow Russia to seize Western property and assets if sanctions were imposed on Russia, stating that the bill “would offer the president and government opportunities to defend our sovereignty from threats.”
Valentina Matviyenko, Head of the Federation Council: Matviyenko is the highest-ranking female politician in Russia, and the first female speaker of the Federation Council. As governor of St. Petersburg, Matviyenko was a divisive figure and was elected to the Federation Council in 2011. Matviyenko has supported Crimea assuming a place in the Russian Federation and has been one of the Russian politicians to note that the government in Kyiv is operating without a mandate.
Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation: As Russia’s NATO ambassador from 2008-2011, Rogozin established himself as an extremely outspoken “troublemaker”, especially on issues regarding the integration of Georgia and Ukraine. He also created quite the Twitter presence, sending this New Year’s message to NATO last year. Last week, Rogozin claimed that sanctions would only serve to stimulate the Russian economy.
Yelena Mizulina, State Duma Deputy: The head of the Committee on Family, Women and Children, Mizulina is known as Putin’s “morality crusader”. She is espcially well-known for spearheading the effort to ban homosexual “propaganda”. Her inclusion on the sanctions list is probably due to her authorship of a bill last month that would allow Ukrainians to receive expedited Russian citizenship.
Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s new Prime Minister: Aksyonov is on the list for “threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes”. He comes from a line of Red Army officers and was on his way to becoming one himself when the whole thing fell apart. So instead, he supposedly became a member of a small-time gang that engaged in extortion rackets, where his nickname was “the Goblin”. Aksyonov entered politics in 2008 and developed the Russian Unity party, an amalgam of three Crimean pro-Russia parties. On 27 February, Aksyonov was elected Prime Minister of Crimea in the presence of masked gunmen.
Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the Crimean Parliament: Konstantinov is on the list for the same reasons as Aksyonov. Konstantinov’s construction business owes larges sums to Russian and Ukrainian banks.
Viktor Medvedchuk: Medvedchuk, leader of Ukrainian Choice, is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes. Medvedchuk is an oligarch and lawyer, as well as the head of the pro-Russian organisation Ukrainian Choice. Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, and The Moscow Times called him “Putin’s personal agent for influencing the situation in Ukraine.” Medvedchuk has been closely linked to Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko.
Viktor Yanukovych: Yanukovych is being sanctioned for the same reasons as Medvedchuk. Yanukovych fled Ukraine on 22 February and has since been replaced by an interim government. Yanukovych reportedly requested Russia’s help in the form of military intervention to protect Ukrainian citizens. Since his disappearance from Ukraine and reappearance in Russia, Yanukovych has only been heard from sporadically via press conference (the last time on 11 March).
Russia’s reaction to the list of sanctions was to basically laugh at it. Dmitry Rogozin tweeted “Comrade @BarackObama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or U didn’t think about it?)” and “I think some prankster prepared the draft of this Act of the US President)“. Meanwhile, Surkov was quoted as saying: “‘I don’t have accounts abroad. The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.” The reality, of course, is that most of these people really don’t care. Last year, Russia passed a law prohibiting officials from possessing foreign assets as part of anti-corruption measures. The law was also said to be in the interests of national security – if officials do not have accounts abroad, then those accounts can not be used to pressure them (as in this case, with sanctions). By sanctioning Russian officials, the US and EU are demonstrating to those Russians who may still have holdings abroad exactly why they should move their assets back home, proving to them that Putin was right all along. In effect, the West is actually enforcing Russian policy.
So while sanctioning Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean officials is a lovely symbolic gesture, it’s important to also look at who you’re sanctioning and whether or not those sanctions will have any effect other than to cause people to literally laugh at you. Sanctioning Russian companies, like Gazprom and Rosneft for example, would have a much greater economic effect on Russia, although it would not be entirely practical for the US and EU. In the meantime, Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has composed a much more comprehensive list of people who could be effectively targeted by sanctions (most of whom are not included on the very brief US list).