The U.S. Treasury Department released a list of 210 officials and billionaires from Russia's ruling elite, exposing them to scrutiny and potential future sanctions in a move President Vladimir Putin called an "unfriendly act" and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said would "poison" ties for a long time to come.
Published early on January 30 -- shortly after midnight in Washington -- the so-called Kremlin Report names 114 senior Russian political figures and 96 "oligarchs" who U.S. authorities say have gained wealth or power through association with Putin, who is set to secure six more years in the Kremlin in a March 18 election.
Although the list itself does not impose sanctions, its creation was mandated by Congress in a law aimed to increase pressure on Russia in response to Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military intervention in Ukraine, and other actions that have caused U.S. concern.
U.S. President Donald Trump's administration earlier notified Congress that it will not impose new sanctions on Russia at this time.
However, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on January 30 that "in the near future, you'll see additional sanctions." He added that such sanctions could come "in the next several months, maybe a month."
Responding to criticism that the list was haphazardly assembled on the basis of media reports, Mnuchin insisted "an extraordinary amount of work went into this."
Putin condemned the report, saying it was "without a doubt an unfriendly act" that would "complicate the already grave situation that Russian-American relations are in and inflict damage, no doubt, on international relations as a whole."
But he signaled that Moscow's response would be muted, saying that it would be "utter stupidity to drive our relations down to zero."
"I won't hide it: we were waiting for this report. We were ready to take steps -- serious ones that would have brought our relations to nothing," he said. "But we will refrain from these steps for now."
"We do not intend to...escalate the situation," Putin said at a meeting with backers of his sure-thing reelection campaign. "We want and intend to patiently build relations to whatever degree the other side -- the American side -- is ready."
Medvedev, the former placeholder president who became prime minister after Putin returned to the Kremlin for his current term in 2012, said the significance of the list was "zero."
But he said it was "absolutely discriminatory" and would "poison our ties, our relations for quite a long period of time -- which is bad in itself."
The report itself does not impose sanctions, and President Donald Trump’s administration has notified Congress that it will not impose new sanctions on Russia at this time.
The list includes 43 of Putin's aides and advisers including Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, 31 cabinet ministers including Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, senior lawmakers, and top officials in Russia's intelligence agencies.
The CEOs of major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft's chief, Igor Sechin, and the head of state-controlled Sberbank, German Gref, are also on the list, along with some of the most famous wealthy Russians.
"To determine the list of oligarchs," the Treasury Department said, it "enumerated those individuals who, according to reliable public sources, have an estimated net worth of $1 billion or more."
A Treasury Department spokesperson told AFP that the list was derived at least in part from Forbes magazine.
The tycoons named include Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov, U.S. NBA basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov, aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, and Kaspersky Lab founder Yevgeny Kaspersky.
"De facto, everyone [on the list] is being called an enemy of the United States," Peskov said on January 30.
Speaking to reporters, Peskov said the unclassified portion of the report included "a huge number of provisos" indicating that it does not introduce "sanctions or limitations" on the Russians listed.
However, he said that making such a broad list public "could potentially damage the image and reputation of our firms, our businessmen, our politicians, and of members of the leadership."
While a few prominent figures were not named, the list included both hard-liners and more liberal officials and business leaders.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich dismissed the list as little more than a "Who's Who" of Russian politics.
Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of parliament, said U.S. authorities "ended up copying the Kremlin phone book."
Putin sought to make light of the report by saying he was "offended" to have been left off the list. He also asserted that its authors were targeting Trump in an internal U.S. political struggle -- but at the same time claimed it was aimed at every Russian citizen.
The Kremlin Report was submitted to the U.S. Congress on January 29 -- just ahead of a deadline set by the Counter America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The published list is part of the unclassified version of the report.
A separate, classified portion lists more names, including those of less-senior political figures and businesspeople with less than $1 billion in assets, Western media outlets cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying.
Daniel Fried, the former coordinator of U.S. sanctions policy under President Barack Obama, said on January 30 that the Trump administration "missed an opportunity…to extend the use of sanctions in response to Russian aggressive behavior." He added that it is possible that the classified list could serve as a deterrent if it "is a credible and strong list."
Trump reluctantly signed the CAATSA law in August after it was passed by an overwhelming majority in both chambers of the U.S. legislature after the country’s intelligence community said that Putin ordered a campaign aimed at influencing the presidential election.
Peskov on January 29 accused the United States of using the list as an attempt to meddle in Russia’s March 18 presidential election, which is almost certain to hand Putin a new six-year term and has been dismissed by opposition politician Aleksei Navalny as an undemocratic "reappointment" process.
"We really do believe that this is a direct and obvious attempt to time some steps to coincide with the election in order to exert influence on it," Peskov told journalists.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the 2017 U.S. law was deterring billions of dollars in Russian defense sales -- and that "if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent."
Nauert did not announce new sanctions on January 29 or speak about individuals named by the Kremlin Report, saying the State Department "does not preview" its sanctions actions.
Instead, Nauert said the CAATSA "legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales."
"Since the enactment of the...legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions," she said.
In what was seen as a test of Trump's willingness to crack down on Russia, Congress had given the administration the January 29 deadline to release key reports under the law.
Trump criticized the law as "seriously flawed" when he signed it.
"We are using this legislation as Congress intended to press Russia to address our concerns related to its aggression in Ukraine, interference in other nations' domestic affairs, and abuses of human rights," Nauert said.
"Foreign government and private sector entities have been put on notice, both publicly and privately, including by the highest-level State Department and other U.S. government officials where appropriate, that significant transactions with listed Russian entities will result in sanctions," she said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised the United States in a tweet on January 30, expressing "sincere gratitude to Washington" for what he called its "demonstration of leadership in countering Russian aggression."
Nauert confirmed that both the State Department and the U.S. Treasury Department have communicated directly with "the relevant Congressional committees" about CAATSA and provided “briefings to update members and staff" on January 29 about the administration's progress on implementing the legislation.
A spokesman for Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Cardin's statements about possible fresh sanctions under CAATSA before the release of the Kremlin Report were "purposely vague" because the information provided to the committee by the State Department was considered "classified."
U.S. intelligence agencies said in January 2017 that they had determined that Putin ordered a concerted hacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 election, with the goals of undermining faith in the U.S. electoral process, denigrating Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, and improving Trump's chances of winning.
U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller and three congressional panels are investigating the alleged meddling and whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump denies there was any collusion and Putin has denied that Russia interfered in the election, despite what U.S. officials say is substantial evidence.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, Politico, Bloomberg, TASS, and Interfax