Russian elite reject US list as ‘phone book’ of the rich
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian elite on Tuesday rejected the United States’ publication of an exhaustive list of oligarchs close to the Kremlin as a mere “phone book” of the wealthy, although a Kremlin spokesman said said it could even damage the image of Russian political leaders.
A Western businessman said this could create uncertainty in relations with Russian industries. A Russian energy executive feared for future transactions with foreign banks.
The US Treasury Department has named prominent businessmen including the heads of Russia’s two biggest banks, metal tycoons and the boss of the national gas monopoly to a list of oligarchs close to Russian power.
The list of 210 people, including 96 “oligarchs” with a wealth of $ 1 billion or more, was drawn up as part of a sanctions package signed in August last year.
The document states that inclusion does not mean those named are likely to be sanctioned, although it does appear to cast the shadow of potential sanctions on a large circle of wealthy Russians.
“The publication of such a large list of everything and everyone could potentially damage the image and reputation of our companies, our businessmen, our politicians and members of the management”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, himself included in the list, told reporters.
Shares in some of the major metals companies – Norilsk Nickel GMKN.MM and the aluminum giant Rusal 0486.HK, whose owners were named – fell at first, although the Russian stock in general recovered later.
President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle is already subject to US personal sanctions imposed following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The White House said on Monday it would not immediately impose new sanctions on Russia.
âIt all looks more like a book, ‘Who’s Who in Russian Politics.’ As a member of the government, I have to be on this list, âDeputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, one of 114 appointed government officials, told Reuters.
The 2017 sanctions package leading up to the list was motivated in part by Washington’s belief that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The Kremlin denies these allegations.
The list has reached the business elite and the government deeply.
Officials and other appointees said it was little more than a copy of last year’s Forbes list of Russia’s richest people – with some factual errors.
âIt seems no one decided to look too deep. They just copied the Forbes list, âsaid an oligarch whose name appears on the list but who had distanced himself from Russian investments and Putin’s inner circle.
Last year’s Forbes Magazine list estimated the total wealth of the listed oligarchs at nearly $ 400 billion.
A senior executive at a large energy company described it as a “phone book,” adding sarcastically, “It was really the job of the Titanic.”
The list also mentions Oleg Budargin as managing director of utility company Rosseti – although he was replaced in that post last September.
A Western banker who is currently involved in a deal with a person named on the list said the meaning of the inclusion was unclear. âIf all these people were banned, 80% of the deals (with Russian companies) would be blocked,â he said.
Another banker who works for an American bank in Moscow called the list “harmful”. âIt creates uncertainty around all people more or less known. Even without sanctions, âhe said.
Another state energy official said he believes the inclusion could complicate relationships with foreign banks and fundraising for companies whose owners have been named.
The list was long although some names of people known to be closely associated with Putin were missing.
Some Putin loyalists have suggested that being named amounts to a badge of honor – while being left out was grounds for suspicion. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was appointed, said being left out was “a basis for considering resignation”.
Another U.S. report outlining potential restrictions on foreigners’ investment in Russian government debt was not released on Tuesday as many had expected.
The ruble opened 0.1% lower against the dollar on Tuesday. Stocks of some large companies fell, although Russian stocks and the ruble subsequently rose slightly.
Representatives for Vladimir Potanin, co-owner of Norilsk Nickel, and Oleg Deripaska of Rusal, both named, declined to comment. Others, including metal tycoon Alisher Usmanov, co-owner of Arsenal London football club, and Alexei Mordashov, co-owner of Severstal CHMF.MM, also declined to comment.
German Gref, CEO of Sberbank, Russia’s largest lender, and Andrey Kostin, CEO of No.2 VTB bank – both state-controlled – were also on the list.
Sberbank declined to comment. VTB did not respond to a request for comment. Kostin told Reuters in an interview last week that he was not afraid to be on the list.
Alexei Miller, CEO of the state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom GAZP.MM, was named, just like Leonid Mikhelson, co-owner of the private gas producer Novatek NVTK.MM.
Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of the Moscow-based cybersecurity company that bears his name, was also listed.
Reporting by Polina Devitt, Maria Kiselyova, Zlata Garasyuta, Oksana Kobzeva, Jack Stubbs, Polina Nikolskaya, Anastasia Lyrchikova, Darya Korsunskaya, Gleb Stolyarov, Olga Sichkar, Denis Pinchuk, Tatiana Voronova and Andrey Ostroukh; Written by Christian Lowe / Katya Golubkova; Editing by Richard Balmforth