Russia promises 'harsh answer' to US sanctions

Foreign Ministry says pressure cannot make country change course, will only unite Russians

The US on Friday slapped sanctions on Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin in the most aggressive move yet to punish Moscow for alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.
Employees of the US Consulate in St Petersburg removing the US flag last month, after Moscow ordered the closure of the consulate in an ongoing tit for tat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.
Employees of the US Consulate in St Petersburg removing the US flag last month, after Moscow ordered the closure of the consulate in an ongoing tit for tat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW • Russia has said it will respond firmly to new US sanctions imposed against Russian businessmen, companies and government officials for what Washington called "malign activity", including alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.

The sanctions freeze the United States assets of oligarchs such as aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, and lawmaker Suleiman Kerimov, whose family controls Russia's largest gold producer, Polyus.

"Of course, we will not leave this current and any new anti-Russian attack without a harsh answer," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

"But first of all, we would like to recommend that Washington discard illusions that we can be spoken to in the language of sanctions."

The ministry said no pressure could make Russia change course and that the sanctions would only unite Russian society.

"Having not waited for the desired effect of previous sanctions, Washington politicians have reached such absurdity that they are trying to hit our companies that have long maintained business ties with the United States, on which thousands of jobs depend there," the statement said.



    Secretive leader of an oil giant

    Mr Bogdanov, 66, is the director general and co-owner of Surgutneftegas, the fourth-biggest oil producer in Russia, which has an unusually opaque ownership structure. Surgutneftegas keeps cash reserves of about US$38.5 billion (S$50.6 billion), more than any other Russian company. This has fuelled speculation that Mr Bogdanov has helped hide money for Russian President Vladimir Putin.


    Industrial tycoon tied to United States President Donald Trump's former aide Paul Manafort Mr Deripaska controls industrial group Basic Element, which in turn owns more than 100 Russian and international companies. He laid the foundation of his empire in the "aluminium wars" of the 1990s, a vicious struggle for control of natural resources in which he emerged triumphant.

    Gold magnate and politician

    Mr Kerimov, 52, is both the owner of Polyus, Russia's biggest gold mining company, and a member of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian Parliament.

    Heir to a construction fortune

    Mr Rotenberg, 44, is the son of Mr Arkady Rotenberg,

    Mr Putin's former judo partner, and their family's business fortunes have gone hand-in-hand with Mr Putin's political career.

    Said to have been Mr Putin's son-in-law

    Mr Shamalov, 36, became a high-ranking executive and large shareholder of Sibur, a gas processing and petrochemical company, shortly before he married Ms Katerina Tikhonova, who is widely believed to be Mr Putin's daughter.

    Billionaire parliamentarian

    Mr Skoch, 52, is a member of the Russian Parliament, part owner of a steel company and a shareholder in the investment conglomerate run by Mr Alisher Usmanov, a close associate of Mr Putin who controls one of Russia's largest phone companies.

    One of Russia's wealthiest men

    Mr Vekselberg, 60, is the founder and principal owner of Renova Group, a large investment conglomerate with an array of assets around the world, including metals production, energy, telecommunications and banking companies, and a number of Russian airports.


US President Donald Trump has been under fire for not taking strong action against Russia after a series of diplomatic disputes reminiscent of the Cold War era.

But the sanctions could now complicate his hopes for good relations with Mr Putin.

Relations had already soured recently as Washington expelled Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, and imposed sanctions on Russians for alleged links to cyber attacks.

The latest move is aimed at seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies they own or control, as well as 17 senior Russian government officials. The sanctions freeze the US assets of the people and companies named and forbid Americans in general from doing business with them.

Mr Trump has faced criticism - including from fellow Republicans - for doing too little to punish Russia for the election meddling.

The US Treasury Department said the sanctions were in response to Russia's "malign activity", including its actions in Ukraine, its support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war and subverting Western democracies.

But the White House said preparations for a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin will not be affected by the sanctions.

"As the President has said, he wants to have a good relationship with Russia, but that is going to depend on some of the actions by the Russians," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 08, 2018, with the headline 'Russia promises 'harsh answer' to US sanctions'. Print Edition | Subscribe