There’s a conspicuous Russian oligarch still missing from the US sanctions list
The White House on Thursday announced a new wave of sanctions on over 400 Russian elites, including 328 members of Russia’s parliament, the Duma. But one figure remains conspicuously absent: Roman Abramovich.
European and Canadian authorities have already sanctioned the billionaire, widely known for owning the Chelsea soccer club. But so far the U.S. has not followed suit, even as Abramovich holds a range of U.S. assets that could be seized — including a $50 million estate near Aspen and apparent deep financial ties to U.S. financiers.
The sanctioning of so-called oligarchs — wealthy Russians with strong political connections — comes as the U.S. and the West attempt to impose “maximum pain” on Russia to penalize it for its invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has also banned imports of Russian oil and played a role in removing Russian banks from SWIFT, essentially cutting them off from international transactions.
So far, Abramovich has apparently escaped the U.S.’s economic wrath because of the role he could play in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded on Feb. 24. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that none other than Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was behind sparing his U.S. assets for now.
The Treasury Department had apparently even prepared sanctions. But it stood down after a phone call between President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy, who reportedly hopes Abramovich will facilitate peace talks.
The billionaire’s good fortune has also enabled him to keep two luxury yachts last seen in Turkey. One vessel, “The Eclipse,” is one of the world’s biggest yachts, which Abramovich reportedly paid $590 million for back in 2009. Other Russian yacht owners haven’t been so lucky.
‘He did take part’
Abramovich has said he is trying to push Moscow to find a peaceful resolution, and the Kremlin has acknowledged that he did indeed play an early role in the peace talks.
“He did take part at the initial stage,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said to reporters.
But now Russia claims it’s negotiating directly with Ukraine.
The full list of the new recipients of Thursday’s U.S. sanctions include the 328 Duma members; Sberbank head Herman Gref; oligarch Gennady Timchenko; and 17 board members of the Russian financial institution Sovcombank.
The U.S. and its allies also announced a new sanctions evasion initiative designed to stop those who are trying to get around the existing measures.
“Our purpose here is to methodically remove the benefits and privileges Russia once enjoyed as a participant in the international economic order,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Many of the U.S. announcements on Thursday will align the U.S. further with other EU or G7 nations, the official said.
Abramovich largely amassed his fortune following the collapse of the Soviet Union by reportedly leveraging ties to both former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Putin. In recent years, Abramovich has become more and more well known in the U.K. and across the West. Forbes pegs his current fortune at $7.3 billion, making him the 142nd richest person in the world.
On March 2, after the invasion began but before the UK’s sanctions against him had been announced, he announced plans to sell his London soccer club, Chelsea FC. The sanctions came a few days later and froze Abramovich’s assets, though the club was allowed to keep playing.
Abramovich hasn’t been able to fully escape Western action. The Commerce Department has announced the grounding of 100 planes — including Abramovich’s — that it says violated sanctions by flying into Russia recently.