BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On Jan 29, the United States Department of the Treasury released a list of the names of a number of Russian oligarchs, senior Kremlin and government officials and chief executive officers of state companies who Washington perceives to have close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a report by Bloomberg, the US Treasury Department, State Department and the Director of National Intelligence were responsible for drawing up the list of the names of "the most senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth".
The unclassified annex of the document that has been released has two sections, with Appendix A listing the names of the 114 senior Russian political figures and Appendix B listing the names of 96 oligarchs, those individuals who had an estimated worth of more than US$ one billion (S$1.33 billion).
The report was mandated by the US Congress under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which was signed by US President Donald Trump in August 2017 with the aim of increasing the pressure on Russia. It is said this was because US intelligence agencies stated that Putin ordered a hacking and propaganda campaign aimed at influencing the US presidential elections in 2016, an allegation that Kremlin representatives have repeatedly denied.
Given that the news about the report had previously been hyped up, Russia may have been psychologically prepared for its release.
However, the inclusion of such a large number of high-level Russian political figures and businessmen from a variety of areas must have been beyond Moscow's expectations.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said before the release of the list on Monday that Moscow believed the "Kremlin Report" was an attempt by the US to influence the Russian presidential elections due on March 18.
"We really do believe that this is a direct and obvious attempt to time some steps to coincide with the election in order to exert influence on it," Peskov said.
In response to the report, Putin also said in a humorous tone that it is a pity that he had not been included in the list and denounced the report as a "barking dog".
The US has for a long time revealed its intention to try and meddle in the forthcoming Russian presidential election in which Putin is seen as the clear favorite to win. The release of the report represents a substantial step toward this.
Its publication aims to tarnish, smear and disgrace Putin and his campaign team and discredit the incumbent Russian government, so as to push Russian voters to lose their trust in Putin and lower their turnout in the election as a way of foiling the Russian election and sparking social turbulence.
To the US' surprise, however, the report's release instead has caused Russian society to quickly stand united.
There is a consensus across Russia that the report is gross intervention in the forthcoming Russian election and that allows no tolerance.
Even Gennady Zyuganov, leader of Russian Communist Party who has long been critical of the Putin regime, said angrily on television that the Kremlin report means the US' declaration of a large-scale war against Russia. While Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin said, "The report will not split us, but make us more united."
It is expected that the US will take new actions since the release of the report has failed to achieve the expected effects. Three days after the report was published, Ksenia Sobchak, who is running against Putin in Russia's presidential election in March, was invited to attend the annual national prayer breakfast hosted by US President Donald Trump in Washington DC together with US politicians, bringing shame on Putin and his team.
At the same time, the investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections is also progressing in the US, an investigation whose essential purpose is to dethrone Trump and limit Trump's closeness with Putin.
Yet so many measures have been launched targeting Russia that some Russian officials concluded that Russia-US relations are now at a new low in history and a new Cold War has been formed between the two countries.
A campaign in support of Putin seems to be being waged inside Russia, and the US' attempt to again intervene in Russia's election, having attempted to do so in 2012, will only consolidate rather than weaken Russian people's unity in support of Putin.
The author is a senior consultant with Pangoal Institute and former deputy head of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.