Analysts: Russia sanctions not tough enough — yet
The latest sanctions announced Monday by the United States and Europe target an array of Russian high-tech and defense companies, but not major ones that may get Russian President Vladimir Putin to alter his aggressive course in Ukraine.
Major Russian companies such as natural gas producers Novatek and Sibur, construction company Mostotrest, and media companies NTV, OTR and CTC Media are not on the list, which is "pretty disappointing," says economist Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington.
Some analysts say it is a serious shot across the bow to Moscow, which knows the West could impose significant sanctions that could wreck the Russian economy. Problem is, they would hurt the European economy as well, and Putin knows that too.
Washington's approach of gradually increase sanctions "is to limit the blowback" on the U.S. and European economies, says Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy. "The problem is it sends the signal we're willing to act, but only so far as it doesn't cost us very much."
"The risk is it reinforces (Putin's) view he's the one with the leverage here because of our view of the risk or cost of sanctions," Singh said.
The sanctions announced Monday are the fourth round that the White House has imposed since Russia took a hand in directing unrest in Ukraine. These latest will freeze assets and forbid travel to the USA of officials at 17 companies "linked to Putin's inner circle."
The Obama administration said it will also deny export licenses to U.S. companies selling high-technology items to Russia "that could contribute to Russia's military capabilities."
The European Union has agreed to slap sanctions on 15 more Russians and Ukrainians, making the total 46 individuals. The U.S. has sanctioned 45 individuals and 19 companies total.
But the sanctions do not go after Russia's prize possessions, which President Obama acknowledged in Manila, where he is wrapping up a week-long trip through Asia.
"The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin personally," Obama said. "The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he's engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul."
The list of sanctions released by the State Department names 17 companies owned by Putin backers Gennaddy Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Yuri Kovalchuk.
But the largest companies of these so-called "oligarchs" are not on the list, "which is bad," says Aslund. But he said the naming of these individuals, who have been granted huge monopolies on Russian assets by Putin, exposes "Putin's corruption," Aslund said.
Also missing is Russian state-owned Russian Development Bank BEV, which manages state debts and pension funds.
Going after these large institutions may make a difference, given that the current sanctions imposed thus far has not, apparently. Russia has maintained a large force of troops on the Ukraine border, and annexed the Ukraine province of Crimea after infiltrating it militarily. It has also admitted that some masked armed men directing the actions of pro-Russia militants in Ukraine are Russian officers.
The Russian government has forecast a paltry 0.5% growth in 2014 even without accounting for the effect of sanctions. U.S. lawmakers are questioning whether sanctions are the way to go.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., described Obama's latest sanctions as a "slap on the wrist" and urged the White House to go after the Russian energy giant Gazprom and major financial institutions. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said the same.
"The administration's tepid, incremental sanctions are insufficient given Russia's continued occupation of Crimea and ongoing actions to fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine," Ayotte said.
The companies that are on the list belong to some of Russia's leading businessmen who have close ties to the Russian president and were named in previous rounds of sanctions.
Three are owned by Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who were listed in a previous round of sanctions issued March 20. Arkady Rotenberg, a judo buddy of Putin's, is worth $3.9 billion and controls several companies involved in construction, banking and petroleum services, according to Forbes.
More than 10 companies are controlled by Timchenko, an oil magnate and Putin pal whose personal wealth Forbes estimates at $13.2 billion. Timchenko sold his 43% share of Gunvor, the fourth largest oil trader in the world, according to Bloomberg, a day before he was slapped with sanctions last month.
The new sanctions name Aquanika, a bottled water and soft drink company, but not Novatek and Sibur, where Timchenko also owns large stakes, according to Bloomberg.
Four companies on the list are controlled by Kovalchuk, a Putin friend and former deputy mayor of St. Petersburg whose wealth Forbes estimates at $1.3 billion. Kovalchuk is the largest shareholder in Rossiya Bank, which owns two large insurance companies, and he owns shares in six state-owned television channels and a large telecom company, according to Forbes.
The list also names new people and their companies that the State Department says have played a role in Russia's actions in Ukraine: Oleg Belavantsev, whom Putin appointed Russia's presidential envoy to Crimea March 21:
- Sergei Chemezov, a government-appointed board member of Russia's leading oil company, state-owned Rosneft, and Putin's appointee to head Rostec, a state-owned company that promotes Russian high-tech exports and manufacturing. But Rostec and Rosneft are not sanctioned.
- Dmitry Kozak, a depty prime minister of the Russian Federation.
- Evgeniy Murov, director of Russia's Federal Protective Service and an army general.
- Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee.
- Igor Sechin, president and chairman of Rosneft, and a loyal Putin supporter.
Vyacheslav Volodin, first deputy chief of staff of Putin's Presidential Executive Council, who is believed to be among Putin's closest advisers who counseled Putin before his Crimean takeover.