Just like the United States has done, the EU must sanction Russians who have become rich by breaking the law or using force in their country, writes Anna Talimonchuk.
Anna Talimonchuk is a Ukrainian researcher, activist and founder of Sanctions2020.
When I launched a campaign nine months ago to push for sanctions on dozens more Russian officials, oligarchs and other elites, I expected an equal buy-in from the United States and the European Union.
But it hasn’t turned out that way. The United States has slapped sanctions on Russian elites involved in the seizure of Crimea, who directed the dispatch of Russian mercenaries to Syria, Africa and elsewhere, and who led efforts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Britain’s Brexit vote.
In addition to sanctioning these “clear and present dangers” to the West, it has also sanctioned Russians who have engaged in law-breaking and violence to amass fortunes at home.
One reason for sanctioning those who break Russian laws to become rich is that the Kremlin often presses them — and their fortunes — into engaging in mischief abroad, including dispatching mercenaries to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs.
Another reason is that unless these elites have been sanctioned, they can travel to the United States and elsewhere in the West to money-launder their ill-gotten gains. Their favourite tactics in this arena are stashing money in secret offshore bank accounts and using it to buy high-priced real estate in places like New York and London.
The United States imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 for its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and its support for pro-Russian separatists in the Ukrainian civil war — support that continues to this day.
Washington has also imposed sanctions on elites involved in the use of mischief abroad, including the dispatching of mercenaries and assassinations of Russian dissidents living overseas.
One of the prime examples is Yevgeny Prigozhin, who started a notorious Internet troll farm that meddled in both the 2016 US election and the Brexit vote, and later dispatched Russian mercenaries to Syria — where they American forces ripped them apart in a battle there — and to several countries in Africa.
In the past two or three years, the United States has extended sanctions to Russians who have amassed fortunes because of their close ties to the Kremlin or have used intimidation, force and violence — including assassinations — to become rich.
The European Union joined the United States in imposing sanctions on Russia for its Ukraine transgressions, its meddling in Western elections, its dispatching of mercenaries to other countries and its overseas assassinations.
But unlike the United States, it has yet to sanction Russians who have become rich by breaking the law or using force in their country. This is despite the fact that some of these elites have already used their wealth to break laws in other countries, and others are certainly in position to do so.
The EU is shirking its responsibility by not extending sanctions to this group. A series of money-laundering scandals on the continent that involved Russian elites and criminals using European banks to illegally transfer hundreds of billions of dollars abroad should be proof enough of the danger this group poses to the West.
The list of EU banks facing allegations of failing to prevent Russian elites and criminals from laundering money through their institutions is huge: Latvia’s ABLV bank, Malta’s Pilatus Bank, Denmark’s Danske Bank, Sweden’s Swedbank, Norway’s Nordea Bank, Germany’s Deutsche Bank, France’s Credit Agricole, Holland’s Ing Groep, ABN AMRO and Rabobank, Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International, and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The effect of the combined allegations has been to rock the EU banking system to its core, undermining the populace’s confidence in a pillar of the continent’s financial system.
An example of a Russian elite who has not been involved in international geopolitical intrigue but who needs to be sanctioned is the London-based Russian oligarch and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, who owns the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and two UK newspapers, the Evening Standard and The Independent.
His intelligence background and financial wherewithal would seem to make him an ideal candidate for assisting the Kremlin with hybrid operations in the United Kingdom and Greater Europe.
One of the most vocal supporters of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he has poured millions of euros in recent years into various business projects on the peninsula, while advocating for his Russian counterparts to follow suit.
His efforts to bolster the Crimean economy contradict strongly with the EU policy on Ukraine and strengthen the Kremlin’s hold on the region. At the same time, he is likely enjoying the high life in a penthouse on the Thames.
Another example is the Moscow-based real estate billionaire God Nisanov. To start with, he is a longtime partner of the already sanctioned Rotenberg brothers, who have been accused of embezzling billions from the Russian state and reportedly launder money for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.
Russian news media have reported that just last year he used force to steal $50 million worth of Moscow-area high-rise apartments and office buildings from a partner.
When the two businessmen disagreed on how to run their business, Nisanov sent armed guards into their projects to seize them by force. Death threats forced his partner to flee to Switzerland and Germany.
A final example is Sergei Roldugin, a professional cellist who is a childhood friend of Putin. According to the OCCRP, he was at the heart of a scheme to move $2 billion from Russia, using shell companies, into Western bank accounts, property and other assets.
Most of those funds were assumed to be Putin’s. Some likely went toward financing Kremlin operations abroad.
Given that Lebedev is undermining Europe’s policy on the Ukraine conflict, Nisanov uses force and death threats to seize property, and Roldugin is openly referred to as Putin’s personal piggybank, all three should be top contenders for EU sanctions. But they don’t even seem to be on the radar.
Why should people who amass fortunes by shady means be allowed to travel to the West, buy luxury property, and live like czars there? The European Union needs to sanction Russians like these who break laws, use force in their country to become wealthy, or launder for the regime.
One of the individuals mentioned in the Op-Ed above, namely Mr Lebedev, disagrees with the way he was portrayed by this external contributor. EURACTIV is pleased to point to his full answer, available by clicking here.