Biden and Putin’s children open targets for sanctions against Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) – By imposing sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s adult daughters for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration has severed the privacy it has long maintained over its close ties – avoiding mentioning the full names of the two women in public and most other references. to them too.

Sanctions imposed on close family members of Putin and other Russian oligarchs also showcase advanced techniques by the United States and its allies aimed at financial penalties.

In particular, in Russia and in autocracies around the world, sanctions against family members are often necessary to ensure that financial penalties have the desired impact. Powerful and wealthy leaders often use common tactics for many tycoons to place assets in the names of spouses, children and others.

“In general, we want to bring to justice those who got rich at the expense of the Russian state and raised their family members to one of the highest positions in the country,” said Morgan Finkelstein, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance.

“But we also know that oligarchs and other sanctioned elites often try to move money or hide assets through family members or other allies,” she said.

The United States announced on Wednesday that it is targeting the assets of Putin’s daughters Ekaterina Vladimirovna Tikhonova and Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova.

Bill Browder, an influential longtime participant in sanctions over human rights abuses in Russia, said the move was “somehow obvious, especially in … Russia’s kleptocratic system.”

“You can’t just authorize a director, you have to authorize a family because the family owns a lot of the director’s assets,” Browder said. “Now we’ve seen it in very different cases.”

In the case of Putin, extending Western sanctions over Russia’s war to Putin’s family may sting him personally, but will not be a major threat to his wealth.

It is believed that Putin – not a stranger to the West’s concerted action against him – has taken care to hide most of his estimated $ 200 billion or more from Russian oligarchs he helped enrich, says Browder, whose longtime campaign has changed the US global sanctions regime in general.

Sanctions against oligarchs ‘family members began to intensify in early March, when the United States specifically targeted the oligarchs’ wives and daughters. Members of the family of the head of the oil company Nikolai Tokarev – including his wife Galina Tokarov and daughter Maya Tokarov – have benefited from his proximity to Putin and the Russian government, and have suffered from sanctions. According to the Ministry of Finance, the real estate empire of Maya Tokarova in Moscow was estimated at more than $ 50 million.

One of the reasons why family members are becoming increasingly targeted is that the recently passed anti-money laundering law is helping federal officials uncover the real owners of property.

Targeting family members goes both ways.

Russia recently imposed a travel ban on President Joe Biden’s son, although it was more of a symbolic insult.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki commented insultingly to reporters after Russia imposed a travel ban in mid-March against administration officials as well as Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton. “None of you will be surprised that none of us are planning tourist trips to Russia,” she said.

The Biden administration and previous administrations have included in the sanctions the children and wives of leaders of other countries. These include sanctions by the Biden administration against military family members during the 2021 coup in Myanmar and sanctions by the Trump administration against the son of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Kim Richard Nosal, a professor of political science at the Queen’s University in Ontario, said financial fines against children of the rich and influential fall into a special category of ethical considerations.

“Generally speaking, when my father commits a crime, punishing me is always wrong,” Nosal said. “But if my father commits a crime and I benefit from it, most people will say that it is entirely appropriate for the community to limit the benefits I get from other people’s violations.”

“I think most people will say that the responsibility to demonstrate that they have not benefited from the income of the target is a family member,” he said.

The United States imposed sanctions on Putin himself shortly after he launched the invasion. New measures taken Wednesday also targeted the wife and children of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Putin’s chief defender before the world, which has already been named in U.S. sanctions for the invasion.

The British press reports that Lavrov’s 26-year-old daughter lived a luxurious life in London, including buying a multi-million apartment for cash.

Putin stressed the value of prudence in one of the few public mentions of his own daughters.

“I never discuss my family with anyone.” Putin told reporters at a press conference in 2015, the BBC reports.

“Everyone has the right to their own destiny, he lives his life and makes it worthy,” he added.

Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in the 1980s when he was a KGB agent and she was an Aeroflot flight attendant. Three decades later, they divorced.

The eldest daughter Maria is a medical researcher who deals with the endocrine system of children. She is also reported to be an entrepreneur and developer.

The youngest daughter, Catherine, was a competitive dancer who became a technology developer, appearing publicly at performances and occasional technology conferences.

The woman, named in the news as Putin’s longtime romantic partner, has not yet been sanctioned by the United States. Photos from public speeches document the years when Putin shines on Alina Kabayeva, an Olympic gymnast in her youth, when he presents her with bouquets or state awards.

In the following years, Kabayeva became a member of the Duma and then a member of the board of the Russian national media company, whose newsrooms promoted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to British tabloids, Kabayeva’s photo and name disappeared from the website of the National Media Group this week due to the approach of sanctions against Putin’s intimate.

Russian human rights activist Alexei Navalny called for sanctions against Kabayeva on Twitter this week, saying one of her subordinate news agencies was taking the lead in covering Western accusations of a Russian invasion as an organized disinformation campaign.

Asked about planned sanctions against Kabayeva, a senior administration official said it was still an option and that additional sanctions were possible against Russian elites close to Putin and members of their families. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal opinions.

Putin is believed to have carefully hidden his wealth from Russian oligarchs, businessmen indebted to the Russian leader for promoting and allowing their prosperity, often with the help of the Russian government and resources, Browder said.

This makes it necessary to increase sanctions against the oligarchs. But hitting sanctions on Putin’s closest characters is also harmful.

“He lived in this world where everyone walked around on tiptoe,” Browder said. “And now the West is completely ignoring its sensitivity and going to the jugular. And I think that’s good. “

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