MOSCOW — The Kremlin said it was “bewildered” by some of the names on a new list of sanctions announced by the Obama administration today in response Russia’s actions in Crimea.
“Whatever names figure on this list, the very practice of appearance of any lists is unacceptable for us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told Russia’s Interfax news agency, warning that reciprocal actions “will not take long.”
Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to shrug off this latest round of sanctions, they and President Obama’s threat of more punitive measures had an immediate impact.
S&P downgraded Russia’s long-term credit rating, citing “heightened geopolitical risk and the prospect of U.S. and E.U. economic sanctions.”
The move, which could make it more expensive for Russia to borrow money and do business, will be an extra burden on Russia’s struggling economy.
The Treasury Department listed 20 Russian officials and billionaire tycoons, many of them among President Vladimir Putin’s closest friends and associates, on today’s sanctions announcement. The designation freezes any assets under American jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. banks from doing business with the individuals — effectively freezing them out of the international banking system.
The move was widely seen as a steep escalation in the Obama administration’s efforts to halt Putin’s actions in Ukraine
Several of those designated by the Treasury Department, however, defiantly dismissed the sanctions.
Sergei Ivanov, President Putin’s chief of administration, “perceived the news with humor,” a Kremlin spokesman told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Vladimir Yakunin, a close confidant of Putin and the powerful head of Russian Railways, told Interfax: “I’m sorry that a country that calls itself democratic uses sanctions for an honest position and for honest statements.”
Two of the billionaires closest to Putin, Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg, both “saw action in the United States an indirect recognition of his services to the Russian state,” an unnamed source told Interfax.
Timchenko appeared to outwit the White House — selling his majority stake in the massive commodity trading company Gunvor yesterday “anticipating potential economic sanctions,” according to the company.
A Treasury Department today accused Gunvor of helping fund Putin himself.
“Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin. Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds,” the Treasury Department said.
Gunvor, however, denied any connection to the Russian leader.
“Putin has not and never has had any ownership, beneficial or otherwise in Gunvor. He is not a beneficiary of Gunvor or its activities,” the company wrote on Twitter.