Russian kleptocrats ‘fraught with anxieties’: why the latest sanctions will bite


The lives of Russian kleptocrats in Britain are suddenly fraught with new anxieties, the Washington Post reports:

Critics in London of Russian President Vladimir Putin are reevaluating their need for personal protection. Russians with money worry they will ensnared by new laws going after “unexplained wealth.” Russians without money say they are being maligned with stereotypes. Suddenly, exile is not as comfortable, their adopted home not so welcoming….Arthur Doohan, co-founder of ClampK, an anti-corruption initiative, welcomes the scrutiny. Doohan runs “kleptocracy tours” of London, pointing out opulent homes purchased with suspect funds.

A Europe-wide diplomatic push is under way to persuade the Trump administration to ease US sanctions targeting Russia, as fears mount that the restrictions are so severe they risk hitting manufacturing activity across the continent, the FT reports:

Paris, which is marshalling the efforts after sanctions on Russian metals companies caused aluminium prices to soar, is pushing allies including Berlin, London and Rome to make a joint representation in Washington. The French-led initiative underscores the widening concern in Europe about the consequences that sanctions could have on key EU industries from cars to aerospace.


The former State Department diplomat who oversaw U.S. government sanctions policy said he was “extremely” frustrated when the Obama administration issued “weak” and “frankly inadequate” sanctions against Russia in December 2016 in response to that country’s campaign to disrupt the U.S. presidential election, according to reports.

“The Obama administration — in my view, and I was in it, OK? I was working on sanctions then — did not respond with adequate strength to the Russian interference in our elections,” said Daniel Fried, who retired in 2017 after a 40-year State Department career that included serving as U.S. sanctions “coordinator” under President Obama.

“What we did in December 2016 was a very light set of sanctions, which I think was frankly inadequate. … We went after some cybertargets, we expelled some diplomats, we sanctioned some of the intel services. But those sanctions are not apt to be terribly effective, and we knew it. This was not enough,” added Fried, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chatham House analyst Nigel Gould-Davies explains Why the Latest US Sanctions on Russia Will Bite.

‘Kleptocratic tribute system’

With every passing week we have new evidence of the threat that Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy poses to our democracy, our national security, and the entire liberal world order, notes Larry Diamond, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. On a visit to Stanford this week, Russian democracy advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza (right) shared with me three important guidelines for dealing with Putin’s threat to democracy, he writes for the American Interest:

  • “First, stop saying Russia when you mean Putin.” Putin wants to frame the conflict as a battle between the Russian people, trying to preserve their culture and sovereignty, and a decadent and overbearing West. But our conflict is not with the Russian people. It is with a predatory ruling elite that has hijacked Russia’s state and its vast natural resource wealth. …
  • Second, don’t offer Putin gratuitous praise. The last thing we should be doing is congratulating him on his election “victories”—a mistake both Presidents Obama and Trump have made. These were not real elections but rather grotesque charades to mimic a democratic process in the hope of giving some shroud of legitimacy to Putin’s dictatorship. …
  • Third, we need to ratchet up the pressure on regime elites where it hurts—in their assets and their ability to enjoy them. The vehicle to do this is targeted sanctions on the people responsible for human rights abuses, predatory corruption, and other criminal acts.


Karen Dawisha, who has died aged 68 of cancer, was an outstanding and original scholar of Russia who argued that Vladimir Putin had turned his country into a corrupt authoritarian state run by a group of KGB cronies, the Guardian adds:

Her 2014 book, Putin’s Kleptocracy – Who Owns Russia?, is a definitive account of how Russia’s president and his friends grabbed and consolidated power. Along the way they became among the richest people on the planet, and the beneficiaries of what Dawisha called “a kleptocratic tribute system”…..Stealing was done under the cover of restoring “Russian greatness”. There was “massive predation”, on a scale not seen since the tsars. Risk was nationalized and profit privatized. A new neo-feudal class featuring about 100 billionaires presided over a deeply unequal economy.

We must remember that predatory authoritarianism is not stamped into the Russian DNA, adds Diamond, who coordinates the democracy program of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

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