Ukraine sanctions against Russia target Putin’s inner circle

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured with his close associate Arkady Rotenberg and others at an award ceremony in March 2020 marking the construction of the Crimean Bridge connecting mainland Russia to Russia-occupied Crimea. (Alexander Nemenov / Pool via REUTERS)

While international attention tends to focus on the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West, Ukraine and Russia are locked in their own cycle of increasingly severe sanctions measures that play an important role in the war. seven-year hybrid between the two countries. Russia usually initiates these exchanges, but Ukraine eventually responds.

On June 24, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sign on the broad and extensive sanctions against Russia that target 538 people and 540 entities. On the same day, Zelenskyy Posted another decree sanctioning 55 Russian public financial institutions. These measures are undoubtedly the most severe that a country has imposed on Russia since the onset of the current crisis in 2014.

Russia has traditionally led the way with sanctions measures in the post-Soviet world. This is quite natural given the dominant regional role of the Russian economy and Moscow’s aggressive stance towards its nearest neighbors.

At the start of the post-Soviet era, Russian sanctions were often a matter of pure protectionism. The former Soviet republics introduced free trade in 1992, but only in principle. Whenever Ukrainian companies have succeeded in conquering Russian markets, Moscow has reacted with severe protectionist measures, either by imposing import bans or by introducing high anti-dumping tariffs. Typical Ukrainian victims of these tactics included sugar, vodka, tobacco, steel, and steel pipes.

As a much weaker trading partner, Ukraine tended to advocate compassion rather than threatening retaliation. Whenever a thaw occurred in Russian-Ukrainian relations, certain protectionist measures would be removed.

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In June 2013, Russian trade policy changed as the Kremlin grew increasingly concerned about Ukraine’s progress towards an association agreement with the European Union. Until then, Moscow had treated the EU like a paper tiger while considering its real enemies like the United States and NATO. As Ukraine prepared for a historic deal with the EU, everything changed.

A few months before the planned signing of the EU-Ukraine association agreement, Russia sanctioned Ukrainian imports from the companies of three big Ukrainian businessmen deemed to be pro-European: Viktor Pinchuk (Interpipe), Serhiy Taruta (Industrial Union, although it was half owned by Russian VEB), and Petro Poroshenko (Roshen). These summer 2013 sanctions are now widely seen as the first public steps on the road to the current conflict between the two countries.

After the start of Russian military aggression against Ukraine in February 2014, much of the existing trade between the two countries quickly ended. Ukraine mainly targeted its military-industrial exports to Russia, which accounted for a third of the country’s total exports to Russia. By 2018, mutual sanctions had reduced bilateral trade to a quarter of 2012 levels.

Russia has chosen to go even further. On November 1, 2018, Moscow delivered its biggest trade war coup to date, imposing radical economic sanctions against 322 Ukrainian individuals and 68 Ukrainian companies. These were the heaviest sanctions imposed by a country in the direct international confrontation against Ukraine.

The sanctions Russia imposed on Ukraine in 2018 mainly focused on politicians and businessmen. The list of sanctioned individuals reads like a who’s who of the Ukrainian elite. Pro-European party leaders were sanctioned as well as dozens of parliamentarians and liberal ministers. Only the obviously pro-Russian politicians came out unscathed. Needless to say, the two most senior Tatar leaders in Crimea, Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, were also targeted.

Many prominent Ukrainian businessmen have been sanctioned including Victor Pinchuk, Hennadiy Bogoliubov (but oddly not Ihor Kolomoiskiy), Konstantin Zhevago (Ferrexpo), Mykola Zlochevskiy (Burisma), Yuriy Kosyuk (MHP), Oleksiy Vadatursonkiy (Nibatursonkiy) ), Andriy Vernelevskiy (K and many more. The most surprising inclusions were Pavel Fuks, a Russian businessman who lives in Moscow, and Dmytro Firtash’s partner, Ivan Fursin.

Ukraine has finally reacted to the harsh sanctions imposed by Russia at the end of 2018 and has done so with force.

President Zelenskyy has become much more responsive to Russian aggression since February 2021, notably sanctioning Putin’s closest Ukrainian ally, Viktor Medvedchuk, and his three television channels. One of the main targets now appears to be another prominent Ukrainian businessman seen as loyal to Putin, Dmytro Firtash.

The Ukrainian sanctions unveiled on June 24 are full-fledged blocking sanctions that include a combination of new measures as well as extensions of existing sanctions. They focus on top businessmen working for the state as well as Putin’s cronies, military officers, mercenaries, and state officials. The common denominator among all those targeted is a perceived closeness to Putin.

A prominent group consists of Putin’s best friends such as Oleg Deripaska, the Rotenberg family, Sergei Chemezov (Rostec), Andrei Kostin (VTB), Viktor Vekselberg, Suleiman Kerimov, Alexei Miller (Gazprom), Alexei Mordashov (Severstal) , Yuri Kovalchuk (who would take care of Putin’s finances and media), Kirill Shamalov (Putin’s former son-in-law), Andrei Akimov (Gazprombank) and Vladimir Bogdanov (Surgutneftegaz).

The list includes Putin’s favorite bodyguard General Viktor Zolotov (commander of the National Guard), Alexander Torshin (former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia), Alexei Dyumin (governor of Tula and favorite young bodyguard of Putin), Sergei Fursenko (friend of Putin from St. Petersburg), Vladislav Reznikov (member of the St. Petersburg Duma) and many others.

Significantly, Ukraine also sanctioned Ukrainian citizens Firtash and Pavel Fuks, who were ironically already sanctioned by Russia.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s updated list of 540 sanctioned Russian entities includes companies controlled by sanctioned persons as well as Aeroflot and other Russian aerospace companies, many military entities and industry companies. armament, all the major state banks (Sberbank, VTB, VTB24, VEB, Gazprombank, Bank Moskvy), Kamaz, the Kurchatov Institute (headed by Mikhail Kovalchuk, brother of Yuri and friend of the Putin family), many shipping companies and others.

Overall, Kiev’s sanctions list against Russia now includes an impressive collection of businesses and people who really matter to Putin. This shows the strength of Ukrainian intelligence.

Ukraine’s recently updated and extended anti-Russian sanctions are well informed and give the impression that the Ukrainian government understands the value of targeting people close to Putin. The US, EU, UK and Canada should all now consider Ukraine’s extended sanctions to follow suit with similar measures.

Anders Åslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

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The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.

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UkraineAlert is a comprehensive online publication that regularly provides news and analysis on the development of politics, economy, civil society and culture in Ukraine.

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the Eurasia Center mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation by promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, via Russia and Central Asia to the East.

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