How democratic: Russian oligarchs spend millions on Washington lobbyists

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January 20, 2018 – FRN – 
KtovKurse – translated by Inessa Sinchougova 

In Moscow, nervousness is growing in anticipation of the publication of the “Kremlin dossier” by the US Treasury, in which Russian oligarchs who are subject to new sanctions will be named.

According to one of the leading Russian newspapers, the names of 300 oligarchs are expected. Some, trying to avoid being included in the list, are making changes to their schedule, so as not to meet with President Vladimir Putin. Others liquidate holdings that can be exposed. Mikhail Fridman, the head of one of the country’s most important private banks, said that because of fears of sanctions, he will stop working with the country’s defense industry.

The oligarchs have reached out to Washington, where they lobby for information about the list, in hope of erasing their names from it. Despite the fact that only the names of oligarchs, who are considered close to the Kremlin are listed, sanctions may later spread to those who are not. In addition, if they start working with Western companies, they will almost certainly be sent a number of inspections to meet new requirements.

Daniel Fried, who coordinated the process of imposing sanctions in the US State Department earlier, told Bloomberg this week that they had been approached for help. Most of the individual oligarchs contacted him through lobbyists, Fried said. Lobbyists passed their requests for information in the interests of Russian applicants, whose names are not disclosed. Others were willing to pay “a lot of money” for people with connections who, playing the role of “consultants”, could prevent their customers from getting on the list, he said.

“It affected me and convinced me that they were really nervous about this,” Fried says. He did not agree to accept their proposals.

Some Russians, fearing inclusion on the sanctions list, came to the US and personally participated in meetings with lobbyists.

“I saw several oligarchs here,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He added that he had never seen such a level of lobbying by Russian businessmen before in Washington.

Neither Aslund, nor Fried, working together in the Atlantic Council, would name the lobbyists who contacted them, or the oligarchs they represented. Fried said that they appeared to be people outside of Putin’s “inner circle”. Aslund said: “Basically it’s people who do not have to worry, but still worry.”

“The purpose of sanctions is to change behavior,” Fried says. To stimulate the Russian elite, as individuals, to distance themselves from Putin and bring them as a class, it would be better for them if Putin did not attack the United States or Europe using electoral fraud or disinformation.” Thus, people who stay away from Putin or, in the case of Friedman, change part of their business strategy, is exactly what the US government wants.

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