Russia list is a hostile move driven by Trump foes says Putin
Mixing irony with scorn, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday described a new list including Russian officials and tycoons under a U.S. sanctions law as a hostile and “stupid’’ move spearheaded by President Donald Trump’s political foes, but he said the Kremlin will refrain from retaliation for now.
Putin’s reluctance to criticize Trump shows that he still hopes for normalizing ties with Washington. At the same time, the U.S. move could help the Russian leader in his re-election bid in March.
Some observers warn that the blanket list of 210 names, which reads like a who’s who in Russian officialdom and business elite, could further fuel antiWestern feelings in Russia and bolster support for Putin. Putin immediately struck that chord, pointing that those blacklisted by the U.S. control companies employing millions of Russians. He cast the U.S. move 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 of his campaign. “Certainly, this is an unfriendly move, which further exacerbates the already strained Russia-US relations and hurts international relations as a whole.’’
The list, ordered by Congress in response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, had spooked rich Russians who fear it could make them informally blacklisted in the global financial system.
But the Trump administration said it had decided not to immediately punish anybody under the new sanctions, at least for now, and some U.S. lawmakers accused Trump of giving Russia a free pass, fueling further questions about his willingness to confront Moscow. Putin, whose approval ratings top 80 per cent, is set to easily win another six-year term in the March 18 election that would put him on track to become Russia’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. But the Kremlin has been worried about voter apathy that could make his showing less impressive.
Washington’s list could help Putin consolidate his support base by burnishing his image of a strong leader who stands up to a hostile U.S., some observers say.
“This is a gift to Putin in the context of the presidential campaign,’’ said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, left, and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, second left, listen to Commander of the Russian Aerospace Force Sergei Surovkin, right, while visiting an exhibition at the Russian military’s headquarters as part of a conference on the Russian campaign in Syria in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday.