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Russia's Elite Denounces US 'Putin' List


Russian President Vladimir Putin, sitting on the stage at centre rear, speaks to his supporters during a meeting for his campaign in Moscow, Jan. 30, 2018.

Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have denounced the United States' publication of the so-called "Putin list" - a U.S. Treasury-issued registry of 210 Russians identified as close to the Russian leader - under a new sanctions law tied to allegations of Kremlin interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Speaking in Moscow, Putin said that by including nearly all key members of his government and Russian industry on the list, the U.S. had, in effect, carried out "a hostile step" against "all 146 million Russians."

Yet Putin indicated that Russia would not respond - for now. "We're not prepared to crawl into the wolf's trap and make the situation worse," he said. "We want and will patiently build relations as much as the American side is willing."

White House reluctance

The list, part of the wider "Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act," or CAATSA, ordered by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last August, requires the White House to provide a detailed report on the dealings of key Kremlin insiders.

The Trump administration, which has bristled at suggestions it benefited from Russian interference in the elections, held off on complying with the law until the last minute.

The White House's lukewarm support for the measure was encapsulated by the list's unveiling: While the Treasury Department noted that the majority of Russians included were not subject to sanctions, the registry's very existence was seen by congressional leaders as a veiled threat of possible future U.S. reprisals.

Russian leaders unmoved

In Moscow, Russia's elite maintained that the scare tactic wasn't working. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian Duma, the lower house of parliament, said the list was the latest in a failed U.S. sanctions policy aimed at weakening an increasingly powerful Russia.

"The sanctions haven't led to a change in our country's political course, or weakened our sovereignty, or led to an internal split," Volodin said in a statement posted to the Duma's official website. "New sanctions against Russia will lead to even greater consolidation of society," he added.

Others merely lauded their inclusion as a point of pride.Vladimir Medinsky, minister of culture, argued he'd been inspired by his "nomination." Georgi Poltavchenko, governor of St. Petersburg, called it a sign of his hard work. Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said "it would be strange" if the mayor of the capital hadn't earned his place on the list.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, mocked what he saw as amateur detective work by U.S. intelligence agencies. Writing on Facebook, Kosachev said he had the "firm impression that U.S. secret services, desperate to find the provable kompromat they promised on Russian politicians, just copied the Kremlin phonebook."

The U.S. Treasury's list of Russian oligarchs appeared to duplicate a Forbes Russia ranking of the country's 96 wealthiest men. Its registry of government figures, journalists noted, was a near replica of the Kremlin's English language "key officials" webpage.

Even some Kremlin critics admitted that the sanctions were unlikely to unnerve Russia's powerful - at least not yet.

"It's a threat, not a punch," Dmitry Gudkov wrote on his Facebook page."For now, that list only means a morning heart attack for the most sensitive of souls."

Election interference cuts both ways

In advance of the list's publication, the Kremlin had indicated Russia viewed the registry - and any additional sanctions - as an attempt by the U.S. to influence Russia's presidential elections in March, when Putin is all but guaranteed re-election to a fourth term.

Putin was asked about the issue during a campaign meeting with supporters, one of whom asked what he would have to do to join the list, to audience laughter.

Putin responded by suggesting the goal of Russians should be to develop their economy to the point where "there's no point to formulating any lists, to hold us back."

Public debate

Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who has been barred from competing in the presidential elections, was among those cheering the "Putin list" as a positive development. He noted that his Anti-Corruption Foundation team had carried out its own investigations and produced reports that highlighted Kremlin corruption by several of the listed figures.

"Well, what I can say?" Navalny tweeted. "We're glad that they've been officially recognized as thieves and swindlers on the international level."

Meanwhile, online debate seemed to be split over the blanket nature of the Treasury list and whether it had gone too far or not far enough.

Why, some asked, hadn't the Kremlin central bankers been included? Where were Russia's senior court judges and the head of the election commission?

Others questioned why Russia's human rights ombudsman was on the list,or a businessman who, although wealthy, had no clear ties to the Kremlin.

And if Russia's top diplomat,Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was on the list, who was left to negotiate with Washington if and when relations are repaired?

Konstantin von Eggert, a foreign affairs analyst and host of the independent TV-Rain channel, noted that the list had suddenly rendered the roles of competing interest groups inside and outside the Kremlin irrelevant.

The U.S. had included nearly all of Russia's entire political and economic elite in a web of Russia sanctions that touch on varied issues such as election interference, human rights abuses and the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine.

"Everyone," argued von Eggert, "is now in the same boat."

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