The Trump administration imposed a new round of sanctions Friday against multiple close associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Aimed at punishing the nation for its election interference efforts in 2016, the new sanctions target seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials whom the U.S. government believe benefited financially from their close ties to the controversial leader. The move is seen has having a large impact on Putin and his allies while sparing the already-suffering Russian populace.
“Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in a statement.
One subject affected by the sanctions, Oleg Deripaska, is of great interest to special counsel Robert Mueller. Deripaska, one of the richest men in Russia, was closely tied to former campaign manager Paul Manafort at one time. Manafort is one of the main targets in Mueller’s Russia probe, and his team recently began questioning other Russian oligarchs about financial connections between allies of Putin and Trump.
The decision is the latest in an increasingly inconsistent series of responses by the U.S. government to Russia’s increasingly aggressive global political activities. As Congress continues to push for harsher punishments against Putin and the Russian government, President Trump has repeatedly called for the two leaders to grow closer and more cooperative while at the same time claiming to be the toughest president against Russia in history.
The Trump administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats from the country last month, a move that Putin matched earlier this week by sending 60 American diplomats home from Russia. That decision came in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in England. President Trump was slow to connect that attack to the Kremlin, despite statements connecting Russia to the attack from British Prime Minister Theresa May and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
According to a senior administration official, the sanctions are not solely a reaction to the attack on British soil, but rather “in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity around the world.”
While the sanctions aim to punish Putin for his nation’s increased aggression in Syria and Eastern Europe, the main focus for the U.S. government is still the nation’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and continued threat to undermine future American elections. The White House has been contradictory in its acceptance of the continued threat posed by Russia and has yet to spend any of the $120 million given to the State Department in 2016 for the purpose of countering Russian hackers.
Congress and the British Parliament are considering further moves against Russia, including legislation requiring the disclosure of owners of companies and properties. The decision would force Russian oligarchs hiding their ownership of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property in London, New York and Miami to be exposed.