Popov: US ‘Kremlin report’ is a weapon in Putin’s hands

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January 31, 2018 – Fort Russ –

By Eduard Popov – translated by Jafe Arnold – 

On January 30th, the US Department of the Treasury released the so-called “Kremlin report”, a document naming officials and businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin who are candidates for sanctions. Overall, the list includes 210 names, featuring 96 businessmen with assets worth more than $1 billion and 114 politicians. 

On the very same day, Vladimir Putin held a meeting with his trusted election campaign advisors, at which he offered his first reaction to the list. Putin’s reaction was extremely restrained, and boils down to “the list is an unfriendly act, but there will be no response for now.” In other words, Russia should sit back and watch for the time being. 

In Putin’s opinion, the list in and of itself should, like other recent moves by the United States, be considered primarily as a manifestation of quarrels between certain forces and Donald Trump within the American establishment. Putin thus stated that Russia is not going to “null” relations with the US over such a document.

In short, the Russian president sees the document as minimally impactful. But is this really so? 

In Russian media and in the unofficial chatter of Russian elites, the “Kremlin report” has not been met with such Olympian calm. Back when the report’s publication was expected and forthcoming, part of the Russian establishment showed signs of anxiety. This was the case not only with public officials, but also representatives of Russian business. 

As it turns out, a group of “compradors” has since revealed itself as those seeking at all costs to avoid American sanctions. Over the past several weeks, Russian media have covered more than a few cases of certain businessmen, so-called oligarchs, and state asset managers of the highest rank attempting to avoid ending up on the list. Reports cited Andrei Illarianov, a Putin critic now living in Ukraine, who said that a number of Russian oligarchs had asked for his consultation and a way to get in touch with lobbies in Washington. Illarianov himself declined to comment on these reports, but it appears that he indeed was involved in such discussions. Information has been leaked to Russian media that Illarianov had even advised the authors of the report and recommended that old Yelstin-era oligarchs be set aside from the Putin-era ones in order to split the ranks of the Russian oligarchy.

If these reports are true, then Illarianov’s efforts were unsuccessful, as both “old” and “new” oligarchs were put on the list, including those who had made their fortunes in the ’90’s under Yeltsin, such as Vagit Alekperov, Petr Aven, Mikhail Fridman, etc. The list also includes the head of the largest state-owned bank, Sberbank, German Gref, who is one of the main pillars of the liberal, pro-American camp in the Russian establishment.

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I can only express my hypothesis as to why the list’s compilers did not opt for Illarionov’s more flexible tactical maneuver. As far as I can tell, the report’s authors basically saved the pro-American agents of influence in the Russian oligarchy from accusations that they are working for the US by putting them on the prospective sanctions list. Secondly, the Americans might gain much more from forging a single, united oligarchic front against Putin. Withdrawing a whole list of very influential persona in this milieu would certainly have weakened this push to foment discontent. 

Thus, under the guise of accusing Russia of interfering in the US elections, the Americans are preparing not only a street Maidan, but a Maidan in the offices of Russian oligarchs and certain senior public servants. The Americans pursued a similar operation during the Euromaidan by depriving Yanukovych of the support of some of the Ukrainian elite, particularly the oligarchs and even his own administration. In theory, this plan is “correct.” But will it be realized?

The upper Russian leadership finds itself in a very complex internal political situation. The emergence of mass demand for more effective and just economic and social policies – which partially explains the popularity explosion of the Communist presidential candidate, Pavel Grudinin – is putting Putin face to face with some far from simple tasks. After all, a split in the elite is the last thing that Russia needs. 

Nevertheless, the solidarity of the Russian elite and the state’s capacity for controlling the oligarchs is still higher than it was in Ukraine in 2013-2014. If a “revolt of the oligarchs” erupts, it will be suppressed. The toolkit for this has long since been developed. 

Any oligarchs who exhibit obstinacy or disobedience could at any time become defendants in criminal cases. After all, evidence can always be found, since any oligarch status is necessarily acquired by criminal means. 

Putin has no chance to destroy the entire class of oligarchs, but destroying one group of oligarchs is more than possible and realistic. Moreover, there is always the possibility of involving other “good” oligarchs in the fight against others by promising them security for their assets or access to appropriating the assets confiscated on court order in others’ trials. These realities, and others which are unknown to the general public, are what I think explain the peace of mind of the Russian president.

As follows, the “Kremlin report” opens up some new possibilities for upgrading and cleansing the Russian elite, which will likely happen after the presidential elections set for March 18th. 

The American “Kremlin report’s” authors – whether they like it or not – have made the long-standing issue of a cadre revolution even more relevant. Such a revolution would address not only the administrative sphere (state institutions), but also the economy. 

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Thus, the reaction of Russian authorities to the “Kremlin report” will be delayed until after March, and the report’s devisers might be faced with an outcome that they far from desired. 



Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 



Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Research Masters in Religious Studies and Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 


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