Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch, was yesterday accused by the United States of working with a former Kremlin intelligence officer to interfere in Montenegro’s 2016 elections.
The US Treasury announced sanctions against Victor Alekseyevich Boyarkin, once a member of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency but now working for Mr Deripaska, according to the department.
The Treasury said that Mr Boyarkin “reported directly to Deripaska and has led business negotiations on Deripaska’s behalf”. It added: “Deripaska and Boyarkin were involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections.”
That election, it has been alleged, featured an assassination attempt on the country’s prime minister by the pro-Russian opposition to stop its accession to Nato. Russia has denied involvement, and it is not suggested Mr Deripaska or Mr Boyarkin were involved in the attempt.
The plot, reported extensively by The Daily Telegraph last year, has become a focal point for Western fears about Russian election meddling and led to legal action being taken against leaders of the Montenegrin opposition and two Russian nationals.
Mr Deripaska is one of Russia’s best-known businessmen and was head of the aluminium companies EN+ and Rusal until earlier this year. He is a well-known figure in London where he floated EN+, raising more than £1 billion, and is believed to own several properties.
He once had links at the top of British politics, infamously hosting Lord Mandelson and George Osborne on his yacht in 2008. The US action is likely to increase pressure on Theresa May, the Prime Minister, who has vowed to take action against Russian oligarchs in the UK in the wake of the Skripal poisoning.
The Telegraph reported earlier this month that Mr Deripaska was on a list of Russians to be targeted by British intelligence in a campaign to disrupt Vladimir Putin.
This newspaper has previously asked about links between Mr Deripaska’s company Rusal and the former GRU officer. A spokesman for the company said at the time that Mr Boyarkin was no longer a Rusal employee.
The US Treasury sanctioned Mr Deripaska in April 2016, claiming he “acted or purported to act for” a senior official in the Russian government. It also took action against EN+.
Yesterday, the department announced that it would be dropping sanctions against three companies linked to Mr Deripaska: En+, Rusal and JSC EuroSibEnergo.
Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, said: “Treasury sanctioned these companies because of their ownership and control by sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, not for the conduct of the companies themselves. These companies have committed to significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control. The companies will be subject to ongoing compliance and will face severe consequences if they fail to comply.”
The action was taken following fierce lobbying in Washington DC led in part by Lord Barker of Battle, the former Tory climate change minister who is chairman of EN+. Mr Deripaska’s agreement with the US Treasury department includes cutting his direct and indirect share ownership below 50 per cent in each company and overhauling the boards of En+ and Rusal.
The sanctions spooked the energy markets, with Rusal seeing its value plummet since being targeted.
Congress could yet block the Treasury’s lifting of sanctions and has 30 days in which to call a vote.
At the same time as lifting the sanctions on Mr Deripaska’s companies, the US Treasury imposed punishments on several new Russian figures.
They included Russian military intelligence operatives over the US election meddling, and Mr Boyarkin, who will have any assets in US financial institutions frozen. Banks dealing in dollars or companies trading in the US will also not be allowed to work with Mr Boyarkin.
The Treasury cited an executive order which takes action against those working on behalf of senior Russian government officials in justifying its move. Donald Trump joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats over the Skripal incident but has repeatedly appeared reluctant to publicly criticise the Russian president, though his administration has pushed ahead with sanctions.
The alleged coup plot during Montenegro’s elections in 2016 remains, in the eyes of Kremlin critics, one of the most shocking examples of Russian election meddling.
Members of the pro-Russian Montenegrin opposition were accused of planning with factions close to the Kremlin an attack on the country’s parliament and trying to kill Milo Djukanovic, the prime minister. It was seen as a last ditch attempt to stop Montenegro joining Nato. The plot was foiled and its alleged leaders put on trial. Montenegro went on to join Nato.
This newspaper approached representatives at En+, Rusal and JSC EuroSibEnergo for a comment from Mr Deripaska or Mr Boyarkin but did not receive a response.