How the U.S. and Europe are cracking down on Russia's oligarchs

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In response to the invasion of Ukraine, nations around the world continue to target Russia’s oligarchs, the class of wealthy elites who make up some of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies.

The European Union and the United States have targeted specific Russians and their families in an attempt to punish those who have profited from Putin’s regime. Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, sparking what the United Nations is calling the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last Wednesday. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

The hope is that targeted sanctions against the nation’s elite will help force an end to the conflict. There is some evidence that the tactics are working: Although careful not to directly refute the Kremlin, some Russian billionaires are now calling for peace in Ukraine.

Here’s a breakdown of what the U.S. and European nations are doing to put pressure on the oligarchs.

The United States

During his State of the Union address last week, President Biden announced that the Justice Department would form a task force to go after the assets of dozens of powerful Russians, their family members and their associates.

“I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime — no more,” Biden said. “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

The following day, the Justice Department announced the launch of KleptoCapture, a task force made up of personnel from the FBI, the Marshals Service, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the IRS and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

The Justice Department said that even if those found to be violating the sanctions can’t be detained, the U.S. government will look to seize their assets. The task force will focus on violations of current and future sanctions, any attempts to undermine restrictions on Russian banks and those using cryptocurrency to evade sanctions.

Merrick Garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement announcing the group.

KleptoCapture will be overseen by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who said in a statement: “To those bolstering the Russian regime through corruption and sanctions evasion: we will deprive you of safe haven and hold you accountable. Oligarchs be warned: we will use every tool to freeze and seize your criminal proceeds.”

Speaking before a Cabinet meeting last Thursday, Biden announced that more names were being added to the list, going after those “who line their pockets with Russian people’s money ... while Ukraine and the people are hiding in subways from missiles that are being fired indiscriminately in Russian cities.” Biden added that he was banning travel to the United States for dozens as well.

The White House had previously announced that, after consulting with European allies, it would be sanctioning Putin directly, as well as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Meanwhile, Congress is looking to address the massive, globetrotting yachts owned by numerous oligarchs. Last week, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, proposed the Bringing Oligarch Accountability Through Seizures (BOATS) Act. The bill would allow the U.S. to take control of Russian ships in American waters.

​​“Our solidarity with Ukraine must be backed with urgent action against rich Russian oligarchs who continue living lavish lifestyles on mega-yachts,” Young said in a statement.


The seized Lady M superyacht
A yacht owned by Russian billionaire Alexey Mordashov, shown at a port in Imperia, Italy, has been seized by the European Union. (Giuliano Berti/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The European Union has issued its own sanctions against dozens of Putin allies, implementing travel bans and the freezing of assets. Over the weekend, Italy announced it had seized more than $150 million in assets from five Russians who were on the sanctions list.

Authorities impounded multiple yachts and seized a number of villas, including one on Lake Como, a popular getaway destination for celebrities and the superrich.

“We must be able to stop Putin’s attack, bringing him to the table, and he won’t go with niceties,” said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Italian state TV.

The assets seized included the 215-foot, $70 million yacht named Lady M, which belongs to Alexey Mordashov, one of Russia’s richest men. A second yacht, the Lena, was also seized. It belonged to Gennady Timchenko, described by the EU as a “long-time acquaintance” of Putin and “one of his confidants.”

The villa on Lake Como belonged to Russian state TV host Vladimir Solovyov, who had complained on his program last month about the possibility of losing his property. An $18.5 million estate on the island of Sardinia belonging to Alisher Usmanov, described by the EU as one of Putin’s “favorite oligarchs,” was also taken.

On Thursday, the French government seized the yacht of Igor Sechin, head of the state-owned Russian energy giant Rosneft, before it could leave a port on the Mediterranean.

Igor Sechin and Vladimir Putin
Rosneft board chair Igor Sechin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Tass via Getty Images)

“At the time of the inspection, the ship was making arrangements to sail urgently, without having completed the planned work,” said the French Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Sechin is a former deputy prime minister who has worked with Putin since their time together in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office in the 1990s.

In placing Sechin on its list of Russians to sanction, the EU called him “one of Vladimir Putin’s most trusted and closest advisors, as well as his personal friend,” adding that “he has been in contact with the Russian President on a daily basis” and “is considered to be one of the most powerful members of the Russian political elite.”