The ins and outs of the impact that these latest sanctions will have on the Russian economy is not my area of expertise. For that I will direct you to this explanation from The Economist.  I am more interested in the impact on the Russian government and the people surrounding it.

As we have just passed what is now the fourth month since the first sanctions were imposed, the question of their effectiveness is being hotly debated. The problem is determining the exact goal of the sanctions. If the goal of the sanctions is to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to see the error of his ways, and backtrack on his support of the militants in eastern Ukraine, then so far the sanctions have been an abject failure.

However, I am more inclined to ascribe to the theory that the sanctions are intended to force a split in the Russian elite. The sanctions have mostly targeted a specific group within the Russian government and those near it. The people typically referred to as the ‘siloviki’, those with a background in the Russian security services.

The most significant thing about the names and companies listed in the most recent group targeted by the European Union was who was not on it. Rumor indicated that Sberbank, Russia’s largest commercial bank & biggest lender, would be on the list. German Gref, the president of Sberbank, has long been labeled a ‘liberal’, and has so far managed to avoid being sanctioned as an individual.

Other ‘liberals’ who have also managed to avoid being sanctioned are Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.These are people the West continue to believe they can talk to. Whether or not this line of reasoning will show results is yet to be seen, but we have not seen any obvious movement in that direction so far.

Below is a list of individuals who have sanctioned by the United States and the European Union so far. The first list from the United States in March 2014:

  • Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov;
  • Presidential Adviser Sergei Glaziev;
  • Duma Deputy Leonid Slutsky;
  • Federation Council Senator Andrei Klishas;
  • Head of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko;
  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin;
  • Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina.

See this article for background information on the names listed above. The European Union’s list in the wake of the annexation of Crimea mostly focused on local leadership. There was some overlap, however, with the US list. The EU also included Slutsky, and Klishas. The second round of US sanctions targeted 16 Russian legislators and government officials, and was released on 20 March 2014.

  • Federation Council Senator Viktor Ozerov;
  • Federation Council Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov;
  • Federation Council Deputy Speaker Evgeni Bushmin;
  • Federation Council Senator Nikolai Ryzhkov;
  • Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Sergei Zheleznyak;
  • Duma Deputy Sergei Mironov;
  • Federation Council Senator Aleksandr Totoonov;
  • First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Parliamentary Issues Oleg Panteleev;
  • Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin;
  • Director of the Federal Drug Control Service [FSKN] Victor Ivanov;
  • Head of Russia’s military intelligence service (GRU) Igor Sergun;
  • Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Ivanov,
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Alexei Gromov,
  • Presidential Aide Andrei Fursenko,
  • Chief of Russian Railways (RZhD) Vladimir Yakunin, and
  • Head of Administration Vladimir Kozhin.

The list further singled out four men the Treasury Department referred to as “the Inner Circle”. They were:

  • Gunvor founder Gennady Timchenko;
  • Bank Rossiya shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk;
  • Oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, and
  • Oligarch Boris Rotenberg.

The Wall Street Journal profiled those targeted here. The Europeans released their own expanded list the following day, bringing their list total to 33.

  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin;
  • Presidential Adviser Sergei Glaziev;
  • Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov;
  • Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin;
  • Head of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko;
  • Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina;
  • Head of the Russian Federal State news agency “Rossiya Segodnya” Dmitry Kiselyov;
  • Commander of the Russian forces in Crimea Lt. Gen. Igor Turchenyuk;
  • Deputy-Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Rear-Admiral Alexander Mihailovich Nosatov;
  • Deputy-Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Rear-Admiral Valery Vladimirovich Kulikov.

The US released another round of sanctions on 28 April 2014 against 7 individuals they branded ‘Members of the Russian Leadership’s Inner Circle’.

  • Russia’s Presidential Envoy to Crimea Oleg Belavantsev;
  • Rostec Director General Sergei Chemezov;
  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak;
  • Head and Director of the Federal Protective Service Evgeniy Murov;
  • Duma Deputy Aleksei Pushkov;
  • Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin; and
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Vyacheslav Volodin.

The European Union followed with their own expanded list a day later. That list included:

  • Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak,
  • General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the general staff of the Russian Armed Forces, and
  • Lyudmila Shvetsova, vice speaker of the State Duma.

On 12 May, the EU expanded their list yet again, but only added 3 Russians:

  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Vyacheslav Volodin,
  • Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Airborne Troops Vladimir Shamanov, and
  • Duma Deputy Vladimir Pligin

In the wake of the Malaysian Airlines tragedy, the United States released another round of sanctions against Russia. This was focused more on companies, but did include 3 Russian officials:

  • Duma Deputy Sergei Neverov,
  • Minister for Crimean Affairs Oleg Savelyev, and
  • Presidential Aide Igor Shchegolyev

Ten days later, the European Union listed 15 individuals, and promised that more would be forthcoming.

  • Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov;
  • Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) director Mikhail Fradkov;
  • Federal Security Service (FSB) director Aleksandr Bortnikov;
  • Pavel Gubarev, self-described leader of the so-called Republic of Donetsk;
  • Sergei Beseda, who is responsible for FSB’s intelligence operations and international activity;
  • The governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region, Aleksandr Tkachyov;
  • Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev;
  • Security Council member Rashid Nurgaliev;
  • Security Council member Boris Gryzlov; and
  • State Duma member Mikhail Degtyarev.

True to their promise, the EU list was expanded again 30 July.

  • Oligarch Arkady Rotenberg,
  • Bank Rossiya shareholder Yury Kovalchuk,
  • Bank Rossiya shareholder Nikolai Shamalov,
  • First deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Administration Aleksei Gromov.

EDIT: As I was writing this, the European Union added 5 institutions to its sanctions list. They include German Gref’s Sberbank, though not Gref himself.

Visual of overlap between EU & US sanctions on individuals. Click for full-size.


Formal charges were brought against the former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and several of his associates two days ago. According to the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office the charges relate to:

“Illegal actions of then Georgian government and its head Mikheil Saakashvili resulted in: infringement of property right of the Patarkatsishvili family; right of assembly and demonstration was infringed and many people suffered injuries [as a result of dispersal of the rally on November 7, 2007]; illegal interference in and obstruction to the work of independent media.”

This followed a story several days earlier that the Prosecutor’s Office had asked for help from foreign experts “in handling high-profile cases”. The implication at the time was that charges against Saakashvili were forthcoming.

Legally, the next step is for the Georgian government to lodge a formal request to Interpol for the detention of Saakashvili, as he is not currently residing in Georgia. However, given the statements from the European Union, and the United States, it appears doubtful that Interpol will cooperate or take any action.

The statement from US Senators McCain, Risch, Shaheen, Cardin reflected disappointment with the Georgian government’s current trajectory:

“Georgia’s leaders need to think long and hard about the direction they are taking their country. Today’s action, and others like it, imposes unnecessary challenges in moving our relationship forward.”

The US State Department also released a statement expressing ‘concern’ about the process in its current form, saying:

“Commitment to the rule of law means both that everyone must comply with the law in a democratic society and that the legal system should not be used as a tool of political retribution.”

Georgia’s Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, denied that the process was politicized, and said that the government was only fulfilling the promises that had been made at the time of the 2012 elections.

“Without being stirred by political motives, the chief prosecutor took an important step and filed charges against those individuals, who have allegedly violated the law.”

But how can the process be anything but politicized? People here have been complaining to me for months that their nightly news programs are mostly filled with stories casting blame on the previous administration for society’s ills. Even if the process were not politicized, it still gives the impression of a partisan witch-hunt. And that is what the statements from the US Senators, and the US State Department show.

At the same time, a United Nations expert panel noted that they were pleased with the progress the new government had made with the process so far. However, they also stated:

“The State party [Georgia] should pursue the investigation into past abuses while, given that such violations were committed before the 2012 elections, avoiding the appearance of political retribution.”

If the Georgian government wants to bring the alleged abuses of the Saakashvili regime out into the open, there are better ways to do so. A dialog needs to be established in which each side can have a say. But finger pointing and accusatory statements are not helpful. Nobody in Georgia benefits from the process in its current form. The people of Georgia deserve better.

Umarov’s Burial

Ramzan Kadyrov posted on his Instagram account last week a photo of Umarov, claiming again that Umarov was dead. The message [] (which was later taken down) was essentially gloating, saying that he [Kadyrov] had been right, and that Umarov was truly dead. What Kadyrov did not say was that his so-called photo proof was a cleaned-up screenshot of a video posted that same day by Kavkaz Center, the rebel press center’s website [note: the video has since been removed by YouTube, which says that it violates their “policy on violence”]. The video is about 10 minutes long, but approximately half of that is old footage of Umarov, and the burial of his body.

Screenshot posted by Kadyrov
Screenshot from Umarov burial video

There are about 6 men in the video surrounding Umarov’s dead body. According to the first speaker, Khamzat [Aslan Byutukayev], the video was recorded on the 7th of September 2013. Umarov had died in the night. The entire film has been subtitled into Russian, as the men are speaking Chechen, rather than Russian through much of it.

It is still unclear how exactly Umarov died. His associates, unsurprisingly, do not seem to know. According to Khamzat, Umarov may have been poisoned, but he denies it was deliberate. He notes that they ate with some Ingush the month before, and four men had died afterward, presumably of food poisoning. He implies that Umarov also died from this.

I’m not a medical expert by any means, but it seems unlikely that Umarov got light food poisoning and then lingered on for another month. It seems more likely that he died of some ongoing complaint. I cannot prove this, of course, but there had been rumours about Umarov being in poor health for quite some time. And his system must have been severely weakened… he was out in the forest for 14 years without proper hygiene or regular medical care. Umarov’s reason for his resignation in August 2010 was due to ill health, though he later retracted this [].

And the FSB alleged that Umarov had diabetes back in 2011, though Umarov denied it [].

On the other hand, compare the Umaro)v death video to this one [] which was allegedly taken at about the same time (probably within days of Umarov’s passing). He looks healthy enough, though, of course, not all ailments are obvious or clearly visible to the naked eye.

Screenshot from Umarov's last video message
Screenshot from Umarov’s last video message

Amir Makhran [Saidov] then corroborates Khamzat’s story, but denies it was a ‘special operation’ by the authorities. ‘It wasn’t Putin, or Kadyrov…’ he says.

The exact circumstances or cause of Umarov’s death will probably never be known. He is buried in the forest of Chechnya in an unmarked grave, and an autopsy is impossible under the circumstances.

Kadyrov will keep claiming responsibility for it, of course. This is understandable. He needs to do so to shore up his legitimacy in the eyes of his people and Moscow. It’s just politics and survival for him.

We’ve already seen what Umarov’s death means for the insurgency to a certain degree. The center of action has now moved east to Daghestan, and will potentially stay there for the near future. This is not to say the Chechen insurgency will be inactive. But perhaps they will be more cautious in the future. Certainly they are being quite cautious in the way they distribute information. It took over 10 months to release this most recent video. That is a really long time by anyone’s standards. Some of that may have been spent cleaning up the video, adding subtitles, and doing the over-the-top special effects. But even granting that… you are still talking 6 months (minimum) to get the footage out of Chechnya and to whoever is running the website. This implies that they’re transporting it via courier and not electronically.

One other bit of news that may be related to all of this. While Kavkaz Center is still operational and accessible, a Chechnya focused website has been put online [].