People and entities associated with President Putin may face the next round of sanctions. The Treasury Department is gearing up to examine the personal assets of those close to the Russian president. The goal is to uncover an unconfirmed fortune ranging from $40 billion to $70 billion.
The Treasury Department has yet to provide evidence that an investigation currently exists. Standard policy requires the department to have enough verification to withstand a court challenge before an announcement is made.
Journalists, intelligence agencies, industry analysts and scholars have always wanted to discover if such a fortune exists. In 2007, the CIA produced a secret assessment of President Putin’s wealth. News of that restricted report leaked. The Russian president allegedly controlled holdings in firms such as Gazprom, Gunvor and Surgutneftegaz amounting to $40 billion.
Gunvor, a Swiss-based firm, is the fourth largest oil trader in the world. Last year it generated $91 billion in revenue. The firm has provided the Treasury Department documents disproving any financial ties to the Russian president.
Current sanctions so far imposed have yet to fall upon President Putin or those close to him. Most likely to make the list are Aleksei Miller who heads Gazprom, a state energy giant and Igor Sechin, the president of Rosneft, a state oil company.
Another firm set to be targeted is a trading commodities company called the Gunvor Group. Previous comments from CEO Gennady Timchenko state President Putin had investments with his firm. Whether such statements are boasting or true remain to be proven. A spokesperson from the Gunvor Group now denies any financial connections to President Putin.
Juan C. Zarate, a counterterrorism adviser for President George W. Bush, pioneered techniques for uncovering terrorist funding. He believes finding the sources of the Russian president’s wealth could become a significant bargaining chip over the unrest in Ukraine.
Releasing such a report would expose President Putin as being the richest head of state in history. To date, there is no easy way of drawing a definitive line to his assets. Too many people and entities serve as proxies making sanctions of those associated with President Putin all the more difficult to prove.
Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, likened anyone close to President Putin would be have a bomb lobbed at them when their Western assets are proven. Perhaps then the Russian president will then get the message that those close to him suffered for his arrogance.
According to a spokesperson from the Kremlin, President Putin’s 2013 income was $102,000. Over the past 15 years, President Putin has commented that he has seen newspaper accounts about his personal wealth. He has called the allocations of him having billions as gossip. According to him, reporters have picked such stories out of someone’s nose and smeared it across their papers.
Fiona Hill, the chief Russia expert with the National Intelligence Council, has come to the conclusion that reports of President Putin’s exaggerated personal riches may be only rumors placed by his staff to antagonize the media and the opposition. Russians like the image and mystique of having the biggest and the best.
The amount of the Russian president’s personal assets can only be speculated. His critics have pointed out expensive watches he wears and lush dachas that supposedly belong to him as definitive proof of his personal wealth. Whatever the case, the Obama Administration is likely to place sanctions on people and entities associated with President Putin.
By Brian T. Yates