Sanctions Against Russian Oligarchs Unlikely To Have Desired Impact
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to move to international affairs now. President Trump has been calling for better relations with Russia. But yesterday, the U.S. slapped new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and government officials, including some close to President Vladimir Putin. NPR reporter Tim Mak has been taking a close look at the latest list of Russian individuals and organizations the Treasury Department has targeted, and he's with us now to tell us more.
Tim, thanks for joining us.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So before we get into the who's who, what do these new sanctions actually mean? What do they do?
MAK: So we're talking about sanctions against 38 Russian entities and individuals, including seven oligarchs that - wealthy business people in Russia, and even Putin's son in law. So what do they do? Basically, they bar Americans, whether it's American banks, their business owners, any other sorts of companies, from dealing with the people who are affected.
If you're Russian and you have a bank account in the U.S., suddenly, you can't access your money. And if you had some business dealings that are ongoing, you're going to find it very difficult to complete these dealings. So the goal is to make it difficult for those who are close to powerful Russians, Russian politicians and, of course, Russia's President Vladimir Putin so that they will complain to him, and perhaps Russia will change its policies.
MARTIN: Why these new sanctions now?
MAK: Well, they've been actually planning for these sanctions for quite some time. So the reasons for these sanctions are the - Russia's intervention in Ukraine, the ongoing malicious activity they've been involved in online and also its ongoing interference with Western democracies.
MARTIN: Let's talk about some of the specific people on the Treasury Department list - some that have connections to Donald Trump or his camp, let's say more broadly. There's a person named Alexander Torshin, and I think you've reported on him extensively.
MAK: Well, that's right. Alexander Torshin is a former Russian senator. He's a Russian politician, and he's very close with the Kremlin and an ally of Vladimir Putin. Now, he, over the years in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, developed very close ties to the National Rifle Association. He's really interested in guns. And it's a really interesting thread there to pull because according to McClatchy, the FBI is investigating whether or not Torshin helped funnel money to the NRA which then went on to support in the tens of millions of dollars Donald Trump's campaign in 2016.
MARTIN: Is there anybody else on that list who has a connection to Donald Trump - broadly?
MAK: Yeah. There's this oligarch named Oleg Deripaska. Now, he is known for having hired both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. You'll remember that Paul Manafort was campaign chairman of Trump's campaign, and Mr. Gates was deputy chairman of the campaign. They worked with Deripaska on issues relating to Ukraine. And now the special counsel investigation charged both individuals with matters relating to money laundering and fraud and not registering as foreign agents due to their work with the government of Ukraine years ago.
MARTIN: Well, you were saying earlier that the goal of sanctions like this is to change the behavior of the target - the targeted government - getting the oligarchs to complain to Putin so Putin is going to change his behavior. You know, what evidence is there that this actually works?
MAK: So the question is, will these sanctions change behavior, or are they merely punitive? So the fact is that this is not the first round of sanctions against Russia. The United States has been sanctioning Russia since 2014 in various ways since Russia was involved in the invasion of Ukraine.
And that hasn't made Russia more benevolent. If anything, we could argue - some could argue that they've become more aggressive, that they've become angered by the campaign of sanctions the United States has led against them. So although the sanctions have hurt in some ways the Russian economy, we haven't seen a lot of indications that it will change behavior.
MARTIN: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, thank you.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
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