The Treasury has come out with its list of 210 Russian oligarchs and politicians, ostensibly in preparation for targeted sanctions.
It’s a pretty hilarious affair, basically a copy-paste job from the Forbes list of Russian billionaires and a page listing biographies at government.ru .
If I wanted to try to split the Russian elite, I would publicly target specific people who are close to Putin, to let them know that they will have to pay a price if they want to support the regime (no Courchevel vacations, no Swiss bank accounts, no English boarding schools, etc.). As Bershidsky points out, this list sweeps them all up willy-nilly, including oligarchs who no longer maintain close ties with Russia let alone Putin (e.g. Yuri Shefler, Yuri Milner), as well as oligarchs who have had some part of their businesses expropriated by the Russian government (e.g. the brothers Ananiev, Danil Khachaturov, Mikhail Shishkhanov).
Consequently, there are three ways in which you could interpret this:
1. We doesn’t care about your ties with the Putin regime. If you’re a Russian oligarch, you’re in for a world of hurt.
2. We are doing this for formality’s sake. Don’t worry, nothing will come of it.
3. We outsourced it to some lazy intern, because we don’t give a shit about this (in other words, #2).
Either way you look at it, this is a victory for Putin. In #1, Russia’s elites stand to lose their access to Western amenities, but they won’t have an incentive to drop Putin since they are all gonna get hammered anyway. If #2-3, it’s just business as usual.
There’s also a fourth theory:
4. This is just the open list, the “closed list” has all the juicy details of the targets’ connections to Putin, as well as the real targets of future sanctions.
This theory is being advanced by both anti-Putin liberals (Navalny) and nationalists (Strelkov, Sputnik i Pogrom), although for rather different reasons. The former because well, Navalny really really hopes that the US implements hardcore sanctions against Putin & Co. to the hilt (as opposed to using Navalny as an expendable pawn every now and then), the latter because they view this as the US exploiting what they view as Putin’s very weak responses to US meddling in Russia’s sphere.
I don’t really buy this version for the following reasons:
1. No point in keeping this secret, just as there’s no point in keeping a doomsday machine secret.
Doing so annuls the main point of the list – to signal to the Russian elite that they should think about throwing Putin overboard, or at the very least jumping off his ship themselves.
2. It is a complicated 4D chess conspiracy theory, which goes contrary to both Occam’s Razor and a general rule of thumb – namely, that the American government bureaucracies – just like the Russian ones – are staffed by morons.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Ca): Do you know anything about Gazprom, Director?
FBI Director James Comey: I don’t.
Speier: Well, it’s a — it’s an oil company.
So no, I’m not expecting any particular Kremlinological expertise from a culture where Russia experts who consider knowledge of Russian optional find guaranteed employment.