WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department has unveiled a new round of sanctions on Russian companies and people around Vladimir Putin, including a famous former Olympic gymnast who the US government believes is the Russian president’s girlfriend.
The measures come as the Biden administration has scaled back actions it had previously pushed back on in its bid to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The athlete, Alina Kabaeva, was listed among a number of prominent Russian businessmen and officials who played a role in supporting the Russian government during the invasion.
The Treasury Department said in a press release that the sanctions target “Kremlin-linked elites, a large multinational corporation and a sanctions-busting business, as well as a yacht.” The publication called Ms. Kabaeva a “close personal friend” of Mr. Putin, who also heads the National Media Group, an empire of pro-Kremlin television, radio and print organizations.
Ms. Kabaeva, a former Olympic rhythmic gymnast known in the sport for her extraordinary flexibility and an international doping scandal, is suspected of playing a role in hiding Mr. Putin’s personal wealth abroad, US officials said, the Wall Street Journal previously reported . .
Mr Putin, 69, has never acknowledged his relationship with Ms Kabaeva, 39, who is a celebrity in Russia and a former cover model for Russian Vogue. He has publicly shrugged off Western sanctions and ordered his administration to reorient trade to partners such as China and India, which have not joined the US and its allies in the measures.
It is unclear what effect the sanctions will have on Ms Kabaeva. While the sanctions have punished Russian elites from doing business abroad, Mr. Putin’s inner circle has restricted travel since the beginning of the invasion. Inside Russia they remain wrapped up in an elite that relies little on Western financial instruments.
But the sanctions continue to hurt Russian oligarchs caught off guard with assets in the West. Also sanctioned by the Treasury Department was Andrey Grigoryevich Guryev, whom the Treasury Department called a close associate of Mr. Putin. Mr Guryev founded a leading Russian chemical company and owns Witanhurst, the second largest property in London after Buckingham Palace.
The Treasury Department said it also identified his Cayman-flagged Alfa Nero yacht, which he bought for $120 million in 2014, as foreclosed property. The Treasury Department noted that the yacht had reportedly turned off its positioning hardware to avoid seizure.
Many of the sanctions, including those on Ms. Kabaeva, were previously announced by the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the slower U.S. bureaucracy to approve sanctions is now playing catch-up, said Daniel Fried, a former sanctions coordinator for the State Department, where he also served as Assistant Undersecretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
But some of the measures are important, he said, because they would complicate Mr. Putin’s plans for alternative trade routes that avoid the U.S. and Europe, Mr. Fried said. In its statement, the Treasury Department said the targeted elites and businesses “are active in economic sectors that generate significant revenues for the Russian regime, including from sources outside of Russia.”
Mr. Fried noted that many of the companies on the list were technology companies that could be vital to Russia’s ongoing war effort. “In the case of the Indians or the Chinese, if they are dealing with a sanctioned person, they will be sanctioned themselves,” he said. “It will be a good reason for them to think twice.”
While economists say the sanctions could cripple Russia’s efforts to modernize its economy in the long term, their short-term effect on Kremlin behavior appears to have been negligible. With imports collapsing, Russia runs a huge trade surplus, with the government continuing to collect billions in import revenue.
The effectiveness of sanctions against Russia has been mitigated by the size of its economy and the fact that it is well integrated into the global economy as a major supplier of natural resources. Russia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of metals and oil, and since the sanctions began oil revenues have risen despite moves by the West to stop buying Russian crude.
Instead, Moscow has turned its shipments to China, India and Turkey and other developing countries that have bought huge quantities of Russian oil since the start of the war in February at a discount of more than 20 percent compared to Western oil prices. Russian oil is also still flowing into Europe, which has decided to ban most purchases of Russian oil, but only at the beginning of the new year.
Write to Alan Cullison at email@example.com
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