Even though Donald Trump himself has encouraged better relations with the Russians, his administration keeps finding new ways to punish them. It has sanctioned Russians; expelled Russians; and then sanctioned more Russians. And the new round of sanctions announced on Friday brings the punishment ever closer to Vladimir Putin himself.
That’s because in contrast to sanctions issued in March, against Russian hackers and intelligence agencies, sanctions announced Friday attack the wealth of some of Putin’s closest associates—and in doing so attack an important source of Putin’s power. In all there are 38 Russian individuals and companies affected, including seven oligarchs close to Putin. A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the action was in response to “the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen patterns of malign activity around the world.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a statement, elaborated on the rationale for the specific people targeted: “The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” he said. In that sense, the new sanctions strike at one of the key purposes of Putin’s government—as punishment not only for election meddling in the U.S. in 2016, but also for its activities in Ukraine and Syria. “Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” Mnuchin’s statement said.