How to Identify the Kremlin Ruling Elite and its Agents

Nov 16 2017

The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, has proposed a set of criteria as the U.S. government compiles a list of corrupt Russian individuals and businesses with ties to the Kremlin.

The list is set to be published in a U.S. government report to Congress in February 2018, as mandated by a new sanctions law signed by the U.S. President in August. Section 241 of the new sanctions law* requires a report listing “the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth”. However, the law does not lay out specific parameters to identify the “closeness” of persons to the Putin regime.

On Tuesday (Nov. 14), in an effort to explore this criterion, the Atlantic Council gathered at the Russell Senate Office Building, bringing together leading experts, including: 

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

Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and professor at Georgetown University;

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.

Mr. Fried said the report may be one of the most important elements of the new sanctions law. It has raised intense speculation in Moscow on who might be included in it and what that might mean for the Russian political and business elite and for Russia’s standing in the West.

He also said the report may persuade the Russian political and business class that they are better off by distancing themselves from the Putin regime and that it is a mistake to think that President Putin can protect them.

The ambassador also noted the need for clarifying the criteria for assessing ties with the Kremlin.

To this end, Mr. Aslund laid out the Atlantic Council’s proposed guidelines to U.S. authorities:

1) The person named is close to the Russian regime, measured by his or her involvement in planning, ordering, preparing, financing, executing, or otherwise supporting the aggressive, corrupt, or criminal actions noted above; or

2) The person’s fortune has been made through corrupt commercial operations with the Putin regime for the sake of personal gain; or

3) The person has held assets for Putin in what appears to be a corrupt fashion, even if he or she personally is not involved in the actions mentioned above, or his or her known personal fortune is not great enough to be considered of “oligarch” scale.

While the panel didn’t speculate about particular names that might be included on the list, Mr. Aslund discussed categories of people the report could include, such as those organizing mercenary forces in Ukraine and Syria and involved in cyber-warfare and disinformation campaigns. It could also include the oligarchs who profit from business ties with the Kremlin, Putin’s close circle from the 1990s, golden children, among others

Mr. Illarionov noted that Russian aggression has gone beyond the international borders and has become an international problem – therefore needing an international solution. Moreover, he said, the U.S. demands related to corruption and human rights violations are in line with Russia’s own laws.

“The criminal code of the Russian Federation is not too different from the criminal code of the United States,” Illarionov said. “Therefore, the crucial difference between them is not the conduct of criminal code per se, but the actual practice of written and unwritten laws. Too often today in Russia those who are guilty are not punished.”

Mr. Piontkovsky also supported an international response to Russian corruption, saying it could potentially improve U.S.-Russian relations. Piontkovsky explained that while Kremlin aggression often lies beyond the legal jurisdiction of U.S. authorities, the U.S. and European governments still have a powerful tool at their disposal – measures to freeze Kremlin-linked assets.

“Activists and leaders of the Russian opposition call for the U.S. government to hit the most vulnerable point of the Russian kleptocracy – their huge assets in the U.S,” Piontkovsky said.

“We have a classical Al Capone situation. You remember that your famous gangster was tried and sentenced for tax evasion, not for hideous crimes,” he said, adding, “the Russian ruling leadership is a collective Al Capone,  who can be tried here for money-laundering.”

______________________

*Section 241 of the new sanctions law, H.R. 3364, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, requires the U.S. administration to submit a report (“Report on oligarchs and parastatal entities of the Russian Federation”) listing “the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth”. The report is expected to provide details on individuals’ relationships with President Vladimir Putin and other members of the Russian ruling elite, as well as identifying corrupt practices and estimating their net worth. Furthermore, the report must also assess the emergence, leadership structure and beneficial ownership of parastatal entities.

The list is set to be published in a U.S. government report to Congress in February 2018, as mandated by a new sanctions law signed by the U.S. President in August. Section 241 of the new sanctions law* requires a report listing “the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth”. However, the law does not lay out specific parameters to identify the “closeness” of persons to the Putin regime.

On Tuesday (Nov. 14), in an effort to explore this criterion, the Atlantic Council gathered at the Russell Senate Office Building, bringing together leading experts, including: 

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

Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and professor at Georgetown University;

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.

Mr. Fried said the report may be one of the most important elements of the new sanctions law. It has raised intense speculation in Moscow on who might be included in it and what that might mean for the Russian political and business elite and for Russia’s standing in the West.

He also said the report may persuade the Russian political and business class that they are better off by distancing themselves from the Putin regime and that it is a mistake to think that President Putin can protect them.

The ambassador also noted the need for clarifying the criteria for assessing ties with the Kremlin.

To this end, Mr. Aslund laid out the Atlantic Council’s proposed guidelines to U.S. authorities:

1) The person named is close to the Russian regime, measured by his or her involvement in planning, ordering, preparing, financing, executing, or otherwise supporting the aggressive, corrupt, or criminal actions noted above; or

2) The person’s fortune has been made through corrupt commercial operations with the Putin regime for the sake of personal gain; or

3) The person has held assets for Putin in what appears to be a corrupt fashion, even if he or she personally is not involved in the actions mentioned above, or his or her known personal fortune is not great enough to be considered of “oligarch” scale.

While the panel didn’t speculate about particular names that might be included on the list, Mr. Aslund discussed categories of people the report could include, such as those organizing mercenary forces in Ukraine and Syria and involved in cyber-warfare and disinformation campaigns. It could also include the oligarchs who profit from business ties with the Kremlin, Putin’s close circle from the 1990s, golden children, among others

Mr. Illarionov noted that Russian aggression has gone beyond the international borders and has become an international problem – therefore needing an international solution. Moreover, he said, the U.S. demands related to corruption and human rights violations are in line with Russia’s own laws.

“The criminal code of the Russian Federation is not too different from the criminal code of the United States,” Illarionov said. “Therefore, the crucial difference between them is not the conduct of criminal code per se, but the actual practice of written and unwritten laws. Too often today in Russia those who are guilty are not punished.”

Mr. Piontkovsky also supported an international response to Russian corruption, saying it could potentially improve U.S.-Russian relations. Piontkovsky explained that while Kremlin aggression often lies beyond the legal jurisdiction of U.S. authorities, the U.S. and European governments still have a powerful tool at their disposal – measures to freeze Kremlin-linked assets.

“Activists and leaders of the Russian opposition call for the U.S. government to hit the most vulnerable point of the Russian kleptocracy – their huge assets in the U.S,” Piontkovsky said.

“We have a classical Al Capone situation. You remember that your famous gangster was tried and sentenced for tax evasion, not for hideous crimes,” he said, adding, “the Russian ruling leadership is a collective Al Capone,  who can be tried here for money-laundering.”

______________________

*Section 241 of the new sanctions law, H.R. 3364, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, requires the U.S. administration to submit a report (“Report on oligarchs and parastatal entities of the Russian Federation”) listing “the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth”. The report is expected to provide details on individuals’ relationships with President Vladimir Putin and other members of the Russian ruling elite, as well as identifying corrupt practices and estimating their net worth. Furthermore, the report must also assess the emergence, leadership structure and beneficial ownership of parastatal entities.

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More