Atlantic Council panel disappointed with “Kremlin report”

Feb 02 2018

Experts gathered at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, have expressed disappointment in the U.S. government’s “Kremlin report” which was released earlier this week, calling it “puzzling and inexplicable”.

The Trump administration’s handling of the report – mandated by Congress as a basis for sanctions in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections – has caused confusion among critics of the Putin regime. While the Russian leadership had been panicking over the threat of new sanctions, the report itself comes off as superficial and reluctant to instate new sanctions.

On Wednesday, Jan. 31, a day after part of the report was released to the public, the Atlantic Council held a panel discussion attended by:

Ambassador Daniel Fried, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former coordinator on sanctions policy at the U.S. Department of State;

 Andrei Piontkovsky, a visiting fellow at Hudson Institute and a senior adviser for Free Russia Foundation;

Andrei Illarionov, a senior fellow at Cato Institute and a former chief economic adviser to Vladimir Putin;

Ms. Laura Rosenberger, a senior fellow and director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund.

The Atlantic Council has previously recommended a framework for determining which individuals and companies the new U.S. sanctions should target.

Reacting to the report on Wednesday, Mr. Fried characterized it as weak and surprising. Although the administration has had since August 2017 to produce the report, it appears to have been compiled in a hurry without proper analysis, he said. It “remains somewhere between puzzling and inexplicable,” said Fried.

A central component of the report, a list of political and business figures identified as having close ties to Putin, leaves the impression that it was simply “taken from official Russian documents and Forbes’s list of wealthy people.”

Nevertheless, fried noted that the much longer unclassified section of the report sent to the U.S. Congress may have more substance.

Moreover, he said, the Kremlin should not expect resistance towards Russian aggression to dissipate, referring to “the democratic senators who released a strong letter urging the U.S. administration to reconsider its approach.”

Mr. Illarionov said the report has been quickly dismissed by the Russian elite. The list of politically sensitive individuals is not even completely accurate, he said, as for example one head of a state corporation identified in the report no longer holds his position. Moreover, Illarionov said, some names on the list can’t be taken seriously as having any important connection to the Russian president.

Furthermore, the unclassified section of the report is also missing information requested by Congress, such as an assessment of net worth, business assets and evidence of corruption. Illarionov expressed hope that this information is included in the classified part of the report, but “it is difficult to comment on the document that no one has actually seen so far.”

Mr. Piontkovsky said publishing the information on business assets and corruption is very important to the Russian people. The Russian opposition has long sought U.S. assistance to combat money-laundering and expose Russia’s kleptocrats. “The dimension of hidden Russian assets in the U.S. is around $1 trillion – this is a robbery of a millennium,” said Piontkovsky. “Never in the history of human conflict have so many been robbed by so few,” he added.

Piontkovsky said the report is a “blow to our efforts to undermine Russian kleptocracy,” but he expressed optimism that the classified part of the report will eventually be released.

Even if the list complied might feel like a “joke,” said Ms. Rosenberg, the Kremlin should not feel safe in the aftermath of the report’s publication. The report’s enabling legislation, known as CAATSA, had bipartisan support in Congress. “This is an issue that Congress is not going to let go,” said Rosenberg.

She noted that the purpose of CAATSA is to deter interference in U.S. or EU elections in the future. The U.S. administration has undermined its credibility, she said, while the Kremlin has hit the “democratic core” of the U.S. and its allies.

The panellists also noted the absence of the issue of Russian sanctions in the President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address this week.

By Valeria Jegisman

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