When Western governments announced Friday that they intended to freeze assets belonging to Russian President Putin as punishment for invading Ukraine, there was no indication they were aware of the payments. Significant holdings may be related to him.
In fact, very little is known about what Mr. Putin owns and where it may be. Despite years of speculation and rumors, the extent of his fortune remains unclear, even as billions of dollars have been poured into the accounts of his close friends and connected luxury properties. with family members.
According to public financial disclosures, Putin earns about $140,000 a year and owns a small apartment.
But that wouldn’t account for “Putin’s Palace,” a vast estate on the Black Sea estimated to be worth more than 1 billion dollars, with a Byzantine ownership history does not include the president of Russia but has been linked government in a variety of ways. The revelations also don’t account for “Putin’s Yacht”, a $100 million luxury ship bind him in speculative news reports. (The yacht, the Graceful, was tracked leaving Germany for Russia just weeks before invading Ukraine.)
The problem for the United States and its allies is that none of these assets can direct connection with the Russian president.
Until now, Western governments have focused their sanctions on suspected confidants of Mr. Putin, hoping that will increase pressure on him. And most of the new penalties, like those after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, continue to target oligarchs close to Putin. These include Kirill Shamalov, his former son-in-law and major shareholder in a Russian petrochemical company; Boris Rotenberg, a construction magnate; and Gennady Timchenko, an investor believed to be Russia’s sixth-richest person.
The sanctions will make it impossible for those targeted to access assets or conduct financial transactions in the US, UK and European Union, where the penalties were announced last week. They will essentially freeze in place money and assets that can be traced from people on the list, putting cash and securities, or even the sale of real estate, out of reach.
But Russia’s elites, who have lived under Western sanctions for much of the past decade, have long preferred intricate mazes of business ownership to avoid scrutiny. Usually, their surface rotation and treatment is only open to leak files from foreign law firms or secret banks catering to people who want to hide their wealth.
Paul Massaro, a senior adviser at the US Helsinki Commission who has advised members of Congress on Russia sanctions, said it was not always clear to US officials which assets would be affected. .
“That means that the sanctions we put on these people will largely be glorified press releases, because without knowing what these assets are, we don’t know what these assets are,” he said. can freeze them,” he said.
Still, even if the US has only a limited picture of Mr. Putin’s wealth, sanctions are worth it “just to freeze what we can, freeze what we can’t.” know and let people know that these people are not welcome in our system.” Mr. Massaro said.
One European diplomat emphasized the symbolic value of the effort, describing it as “A politically important signal.”
By being added to the Treasury Department’s “Special Designated Countries” list, Putin joins a small but notorious group of heads of state, including Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Kim Jong- un of North Korea and Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov is also subject to sanctions.
Finance Minister Janet L. Yellen said in a declare on Friday.
Estimates of what Mr. Putin is secretly worth can vary widely. One of the most sensationalistic claims came from Bill Browder, an American-born financier who was banned from traveling to Russia in 2005 after clashing with oligarchs there. He testify before Congress in 2017, he believed that Putin’s fortune could reach $200 billion, an unusual amount that made him the richest person in the world at the time.
Understanding Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is the root cause of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be inside its natural sphere of influence, and it became irritated by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of it joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is also not included in this category, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Anders Aslund, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of the 2019 book “Russian Crony Capitalism,” has pegged the Russian president’s fortune at around $125 billion. Much of it, he argued, could be hidden in a network of offshore shelters held by Putin’s allies, friends and relatives.
In rare cases, people close to Mr. Putin’s insiders have spoken publicly about his wealth. In 2010, Sergei Kolesnikov, who said he was a business associate of a Putin ally, wrote a open letter Then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev asserted that Putin was building a huge property on the Black Sea coast that would later come to be known as Putin’s Palace. Mr. Kolesnikov wrote in the letter sent after leaving Russia, which has cost more than 1 billion US dollars.
The massive project has a cinema, a hookah lounge and a pole dance stage, according to a report and documentary released last year by the jailed opposition leader. Alexei A. Navalny and his associates. Several oligarchs close to Putin have been implicated at various times, including Shamalov’s father. Last year, billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, childhood friend of the Russian president, step forward to claim that he owns the property and is developing it into hotels and apartments.
The Kremlin insists that Putin is a man of casual dress, regularly spreading pictures of him grinding it in the Siberian woods, while denying he owns any palaces.
State TV presenter Dmitri Kiselyov said on his program early last year, following Navalny’s video investigation of the estate.
Leaked financial information also offers clues about Putin’s wealth, even if he himself doesn’t appear in the data. The Panama Papers, a collection of files from a foreign law firm that were revealed in 2016, revealed secret wealth of many people close to him, including Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and longtime friend, who made more than $8 million a year, according to documents filed with a Swiss bank. (He previously told The New York Times, “I don’t have millions. “)
Last year, a new leak of records from companies specializing in tax havens abroad, called Pandora Papers, showing that the woman believed to be Putin’s lover bought an apartment in Monaco. It’s one of the assets she has accumulated with an estimated value 100 million dollars.
But in the end, says Nate Sibley, a researcher at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative, Putin doesn’t need to own a huge fortune because he’s an autocrat who is “in control” everything”.
“When people say he’s worth so and so, what does that mean?” he asks. “Did they really say he was going to withdraw and retire to St. Tropez?”
Anton Troianovski contributed reporting.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/world/europe/putin-sanctions-money-assets.html Putin faces sanctions, but his fortune remains a mystery