U.S. Sanctions Actually Target Putin’s Domestic Rivals

Barack Obama announced a series of sanctions against officials in Russia who he claims have played a role in the continued unrest in the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. The move came one day after a majority voters in the region supported a referendum to unite with Russia.

In a statement Monday, Obama said the U.S. would not recognize the referendum. He went on to blame a number of officials within the Russian government for the development.

“We are imposing sanctions on specific individuals for undermining the sovereignty, territorial integrity and government of Ukraine,” he asserted. “We are making it clear that there are consequences for their actions.”

russiaukr_small U.S. Sanctions Actually Target Putin's Domestic Rivals

The White House – along with numerous media outlets – is touting the sanctions as a direct response to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While Putin is not named directly in Obama’s reaction, a White House statement indicates the U.S. will “seek to hold accountable individuals who use their resources or influence to support or act on behalf of senior Russian government officials.”

One senior White House advisor, however, questioned Obama’s selection, suggesting the seven Russian officials facing sanctions are not Putin allies at all. The source, who requested anonymity in discussing the developing story, offered a background for each of the individuals targeted by the White House.

Sergey Glazyev reportedly mounted a presidential campaign against Putin in 2004 and has been excluded from the inner workings of the Russian government since. Another target of sanctions, Vladislav Surkov, reportedly resigned from the Putin regime last year following accusations that he would not enforce the Russian president’s policies.

A third official, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitiry Rogozin, is reportedly being blamed for bungling Russia’s advancement in the region by backing recently ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. By defying Putin’s wishes, the source claims, Rogozin has been ostracized by Russian leadership.

Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who currently serves as the nation’s prime minister, did consider some of the targets to be close confidants. Putin apparently feels differently. According to the White House source, Leonid Slutsky and Valentina Matviyenko both held positions of power in Russia until they fell out of favor with Putin. Furthermore, Andrei Klishas is reportedly feuding with a Putin ally.

The final Russian official facing U.S. sanctions, Yelena Mizulina, likely made it on the list due to her anti-gay policy positions rather than any connection to Ukraine policy.

While the move was sold as a clear message to Russian officials responsible for the current Ukraine crisis, the end result seems to bear little resemblance to that goal. Instead, Obama seems to have targeted individuals Putin himself would have approved. As a result, the U.S. action has had little noticeable effect on Russia’s economy as of this writing. In fact, the Russian market rose today on the news of these weak sanctions.

U.S. allies in the European Union have similarly refused to acknowledge the recent Crimean vote to secede from Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether the EU’s sanctions, which are expected to be announced Tuesday, will have any legitimate effect on Russian leadership.

–B. Christopher Agee