Russia’s oligarchs speak out

The Ukrainian crisis has begun to isolate Russia from the international community. As Moscow ratchets up its threat of military force against Kiev, Western countries realize that the only retaliation they are capable of is economic. But the Europeans especially are sensitive to the fact that economic sanctions may have a boomerang effect on their own economies. So far, NATO has suspended the participation of Russia in several meetings and halted the cooperation it had begun with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States has already imposed targeted individual sanctions on some individuals linked to Vladimir Putin. Yuri Kovalchuk, for example, was sanctioned because as chairman of Rossiya Bank, one of the biggest in Russia, he is considered to be “Putin’s banker.” Gennady Timchenko and Vladimir Yakunin are also thought to be very close to Putin and his coterie of ex-KGB officers. And yet, many other people were not sanctioned. Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man, has thus far managed to escape sanctions. The idea of targeting Russia’s oligarchs is grounded in the hopes that they have influence over policy makers. In other words, if the West can threaten those who make the Russian economy move, they can indirectly pressure Putin, who fears that economic hardships within Russia will erode his popularity and raise the specter of anti-authoritarian protests within Russia itself.