Ukraine crisis: Russian sanctions screw is tightened

  • 29 April 2014
  • From the section Europe
Igor Sechin (right) with President Putin in August 2010
Image caption Igor Sechin (R) is the most important of the 'Siloviki' - the hard men of Russian politics - to be sanctioned

So far the international sanctions against Russia have been targeted at President Vladimir Putin's inner circle and their personal wealth.

President Putin himself and his senior ministers have been left alone. But some of his oldest political allies and his closest friends have had their US assets frozen, their companies sanctioned, and their ability to travel limited.

By far the most significant person to be sanctioned on Monday was Igor Sechin.

He was one of seven names on a new list produced by the US Treasury.

Mr Sechin is the most important of the "Siloviki" - the hard men of Russian politics. He is a former intelligence officer, and a long-term ally of President Putin, dating back to their days in St Petersburg.

He is not even a minister any more but remains hugely influential in the Kremlin, after shifting across to become the chairman of the huge oil giant Rosneft, which is state-controlled - although almost 20% of it is owned by the British company BP.

Close friends

Another Rosneft board member and old ally of President Putin, Sergey Chemezov, is also on the list.

Image caption The sanctions on Bank Rossiya have already had some effects on the country's payments system
Image caption Sergey Chemezov is another Rosneft board member and old ally of President Putin
Image caption Construction billionaire Arkady Rotenberg (R) is a childhood friend of the Russian leader
Image caption Gennady Timchenko used to run the commodities trading company Gunvor
Image caption Gazprom's Alexey Miller is not on the sanctions list - presumably because his firm supplies gas to Europe

But sanctioning Igor Sechin and Sergey Chemezov is not likely to have much direct effect on the wider Russian economy, and for Rosneft it should be almost business as usual.

The US sanctions have also targeted close friends of President Putin, like his childhood playmates Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who have become construction billionaires through working on government contracts. Many of their companies have now been added to the sanctions list.

The Americans have gone after people who they claim have worked with President Putin's own finances too.

Most notable among these is the billionaire Gennady Timchenko who used to run the commodities trading company Gunvor, in which the Americans claim Vladimir Putin may have had a personal stake.

Also targeted was Bank Rossiya and companies associated with it. The bank is said to handle the finances of senior Kremlin officials.

But it is also an important Russian financial institution, and the sanctions on Bank Rossiya have already had some effects on the payments system in Russia.

However the most significant effect of the sanctions so far has been on business confidence.

Image caption Many of the companies run by Boris Rotenberg (pictured) and his brother are now on the list

Investment into Russia has fallen and the amount of money pouring out of Russia has increased.

Russia's credit rating has been downgraded by Standard & Poor's to BBB - just one notch above "junk" status. The stock market is down 15% this year, and the rouble has fallen around 9% against the dollar.

But despite all this, the Russian stock market has risen in the last two days after concerns that whole sectors of the Russian economy could be targeted this time proved wrong. The US says it is keeping that option in reserve.

The most notable absentee from any sanctions list remains Gazprom and its chairman, Alexey Miller. Presumably this is because it is such an important provider of gas in Europe.

That said, Gazprom warned on Tuesday that any further expansion of sanctions against Russia would start to affect its business and its share price.