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Putin calls Russia list 'hostile' as Dems decry no sanctions


AP Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin described a list of his country's officials and tycoons put together to comply with a US sanctions law as a hostile and "stupid" move spearheaded by President Donald Trump's political foes, but said that the Kremlin would refrain from retaliating for now.

A continent away, Democrats in Washington lodged the opposite complaint, charging that Trump had let Putin off the hook. They chastised the president for declining to punish anyone under a part of the sanctions law that was intended to isolate Russia's defence and intelligence sectors for Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

Putin's reluctance to criticise Trump suggested the Russian leader still harbours hopes for normalising ties with the United States. At the same time, the blanket list of 210 names, a who's who of Russian officialdom and business elite, could help him win re-election in March by fuelling anti- Western sentiment.

Mixing sarcasm and scorn, Putin immediately struck that chord yesterday, saying that the people the US named control companies employing millions of Russians. The list has spooked rich Russians, who fear it could get them informally blacklisted in the global financial system. But Putin cast the action in Washington as a blow to ordinary people.

"All of us, all 146 million, have been put on some kind of list," he said at a meeting with activists for his election campaign. "Certainly, this is an unfriendly move, which further exacerbates the already strained Russia-US relations and hurts international relations as a whole."

Yet in the US capital, the so-called "Putin list" was greeted with a collective shrug, mocked by some after it was revealed that the Treasury Department had prepared it by simply copying and pasting Forbes' list of Russians worth USD 1 billion or more.

Instead, Russia hawks and Trump's opponents were focused on why his administration opted not to punish anybody -- at least for now -- using new sanctions authority that took effect on Monday.

"The president of the United States is not taking action to defend this nation," charged Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Alluding to potential future election-meddling, Cardin said that if Putin "sees softness in the US resolve, he will do more."

Both requirements -- that the US issue a list of powerful Russians and start using sanctions to punish those doing "significant" business with Russian defence and intelligence companies -- were included in a law Congress passed last year in response to alleged Russian interference in the US presidential campaign. Trump's administration had until Monday to take both steps.

On the sanctions, though, the administration decided it didn't need to penalise anyone, including several US allies that have had multi-billion-dollar arms deals with Russia in the works, because the threat of sanctions had been enough of a deterrent.

The State Department said that through demarches to foreign countries and other diplomatic conversations, the US had scuttled potential deals worth billions of dollars to the Russians.

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First Published: Jan 31 2018 | 6:10 AM IST

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