Putin calls US list of elite individuals an affront to all Russians

‘The dogs bark, but the caravan keeps going,’ says president of US treasury report

Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that a list of Kremlin-connected individuals released by the US treasury was an affront to all Russians that would harm bilateral relations, but dismissed its impact as an empty threat.

Speaking to an audience of supporters at an election campaign event in Moscow, Mr Putin was greeted with cheers, laughs and applause as he waved away the list – mandated by new sanctions legislation passed by the US Congress – with a proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan keeps going.”

“Average Russians stand behind the names on this list, so that means the entire country has been listed . . . We should carry on with our own business, and then they will realise that it’s pointless to make these lists, to threaten us,” he said.

Describing the treasury report as "nonsense" that would "reduce our bilateral relationship to zero", Mr Putin mocked the US for bundling together North Korea, Iran and Russia as threats while asking Moscow for help in dealing with Tehran and Pyongyang.

The administration of US president Donald Trump had late on Monday provided Congress with a report that names scores of Russian businessmen and officials as members of the Russian elite, ignoring warnings not to do so by Moscow.

They include Herman Gref, head of Sberbank; VTB's Andrei Kostin; Igor Sechin, boss of state oil company Rosneft; and virtually every senior member of Mr Putin's inner circle, including his spokesman Dmitry Peskov. It also includes almost 100 billionaires such as Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska and Alisher Usmanov.

No new sanctions

The report came the same day that the US state department opted not to announce new sanctions on countries or companies that conducted significant transactions with the Russian defence and intelligence sectors – which was another provision mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa).

Heather Nauert, state department spokeswoman, said the administration had told Congress there was no need to impose sanctions since the legislation was already deterring Russian defence sales.

The Caatsa legislation is intended to ensure the Trump administration, which has been accused of pandering to Mr Putin, keeps up pressure on the Kremlin over its military intervention in Ukraine.

The report comes as Mr Trump continues to come under scrutiny over his relationship with Russia and Mr Putin. Since his inauguration, he has only on rare occasions criticised Mr Putin and the Kremlin.

The unclassified version of the report released on Monday listed 96 oligarchs with an estimated wealth of $1 billion or more. The classified version, which was not released, is expected to include details on how close they are to Mr Putin and his ruling elite, and any information outlining their involvement in corrupt activities.

Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist who is attempting to challenge Mr Putin in March's presidential elections despite an official ban, said the report was a "realistic list describing what we could call the 'Putin mafia'. Obviously, these people have different roles, but they are absolutely the backbone of a corrupt regime and they get significant personal benefits from it."

Road map

Many Russia experts had expected the public report to shine a light on Russian businessmen and officials deemed to have a close relationship with Mr Putin, providing a road map for future sanctions. But the unclassified version appeared to include little consideration of any political influence.

Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, wrote on Facebook that the list "gives the firm impression that US secret services, desperate to find the provable kompromat [compromising material] they promised on Russian politicians, just copied the Kremlin phonebook".

The 96 people on the oligarch list correspond exactly to the 96 billionaires on last year’s Forbes list of Russian billionaires. The classified version of the report may include businesspeople worth less than $1 billion. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018