US Government Riddle: Why Are So Many Dogs Not Barking? Because the CAATSA Got Their Tongues
by John Helmer - Dances with Bears
January 30, 2018
Moscow - As midnight tolled in Washington, DC, and January 29 slid into January 30, the deadline for the US Government to produce a report to the Congress listing Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin slipped by in the darkness. No dog barked.*
Required by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), enacted with President Donald Trump’s signature last August, the oligarch report was not produced on time. Nor were three other reports – one on sanctions for Russian sovereign debt issues, one on sanctions for business with the Russian defense sector, and one on the extent to which Russian state banks and state asset holdings have re-nationalized key sectors of the Russian economy, such as banking, insurance, real estate, and ports.
There was no press release from the White House, the US Treasury, or the State Department.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which are responsible for administering CAATSA, made no announcement of what had happened, and not happened. Despite a media blitz in advance of the deadline, anticipating the release of dozens of Russian oligarch names as potential targets for fresh US sanctions, not a single mainstream US newspaper or broadcaster reported the failure of the list to materialize.
On Monday morning in Moscow, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced the Kremlin was expecting the oligarchs’ list, but if the US economic war is taken to them now, Putin would fight back. “The publishing of this list means nothing per se. As you know, this is not another wave of sanctions. However, we should definitely analyze the actions that may follow the release of this report.
These actions will be analyzed by Moscow in order to give maximum protection to our interests, the interests of our companies, in any case.” On Monday morning in Washington, CNN reported:
“’The Department of Treasury does plan to act today to issue a report and take this process the next step forward,’ White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told CNN’s New Day… A White House official told CNN later Monday morning that their expectation is that the report will list individuals who might be in violation.”
After lunch at the White House, Sarah Sanders (right), the Press Secretary, was asked by a reporter:
“Can you tell us whether that’s actually going to happen today, and whether the names on the oligarchs list will be public? And on the impact on sanctioning, will portions of that be public also?”
“We do expect the reports today. And I would refer you to the Department of Treasury for any specifics on that as that happens… We’re coordinating, and I’m telling you that they’re taking the lead. And for questions specific to it, you should reach out to the Department of Treasury in terms of timing.”
Some dogs of war appeared to be getting ready to bark on cue, as four senators and congressmen belonging to the Democratic Party (war against Russia, war against Trump) had insisted. In a letter to Trump,
“we note an impending January 29th deadline with respect to three areas mandated in the [CAATSA] legislation: imposition of sanctions on the defense and intelligence sectors; a report from the Department of the Treasury on the implications of sanctions on the Russian Federation’s sovereign debt; and a report from the Department of Treasury on oligarchs and parastatal entities of the Russian Federation…While we understand the need to provide a classified annex to the report, we trust that you [Trump] will make the report itself unclassified, as the law requires, so that the American public might gain a better understanding of how the Russian Federation’s system operates.”
Instead, the White House, Treasury and State remained silent. A State Department press officer told a reporter for the Politico.com website that following hours of negotiations between officials and congressmen, a covering document had been filed with the Congress, together with an attachment. This has been classified so strictly, its contents cannot be quoted or published. The website reported an unnamed State spokesperson as writing in an email that the Trump administration is “using this legislation as Congress intended to press Russia to address our concerns related to its aggression in Ukraine, interference in other nations’ domestic affairs and abuses of human rights.”
Potential targets of future penalties, including non-Russian governments, militaries, and other arms-buyers “have been put on notice, both publicly and privately, including by the highest-level State Department and other U.S. government officials where appropriate, that significant transactions with listed Russian entities will result in sanctions…Given the long time frames generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent. From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.” This email appears to have been the unclassified report to Congress excerpted in a series of tweets from Politico; the twitter feed can be followed here.
State was also quoted as telling Congress that “as you know, we don’t preview our sanctions actions. When and if we have sanctions to announce, we will do so.” Politico’s text failed to mention the reports on oligarchs, Russian sovereign debt, and re-nationalization, all the work of the Treasury. Last Friday the Treasury had announced sanctions on Russian and Novorussian targets in relation to the Ukrainian conflict, and the Syrian war. The press release reporting them can be read here. Nothing more followed from the Treasury on Monday.
Politico wasn’t told; didn’t ask; and didn’t know from leakers whether the oligarch list or assessment of sanctions on Russian sovereign debt have been produced to Congress, according to CAATSA. “It remains unclear [read DON’T KNOW] whether the administration has already released or plans to release the oligarchs or sovereign debt reports that were due Monday, both of which are likely to contain classified information…Further details are contained in a classified report we have submitted to Congress.” A 2-page Treasury document was released to selected reporters in the early hours of Tuesday; it is unclassified, and can be read in full here. A 7-page, unclassified list of names is attached.
According to this purported Treasury paper, the listing of officials close to Putin was carried out by straightforward transcription from Russian government and state corporation manuals. A total of 94 names have been noted. Three names are missing from the state officials’ list – Anatoly Chubais, head of Rusnano, the state technology holding; Alexei Kudrin of the Kremlin Expert Council; and Mikhail Abyzov, Minister of Open Government. For the record of their closeness to US plans for regime change in Moscow, start here.
A fourth name missing from the state officials’ list is Sergei Frank, head of the state shipping company Sovcomflot; his corrupt closeness to the Kremlin has been testified to in a decade of court cases in the UK. For Frank’s record, including his relationship with the US oil company Chevron, click to read. The omission of Frank on the Treasury listing is odd because his counterparts at the head of Aeroflot, the state airline; the state aerospace manufacturer, United Aircraft Corporation; Russian Railways; and Transneft, the state oil pipeline company are all included by name.
The identification of the oligarchs, the Treasury document claims, was carried out on the basis of “reliable public sources [to] have an estimated net worth of $1 billion or more”. There are 96 names on the oligarch list. The sources of the US Government’s intelligence have not been identified. They appear to include Forbes and other published Russian Rich Lists; as well as the Kremlin guest-lists for the annual oligarchs’ Christmas dinner.
Several names listed by the Treasury are of individuals who have been blackballed for years by the Kremlin; they include Yelena Baturina, Andrei Skoch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Yury Shefler, the Ananiev brothers, Kirill Shamalov, and Vladimir Yakunin. These names reveal how dated and obsolete the US intelligence is on these targets. Shamalov, the second last of these names, is widely understood to have lost most of his assets after the collapse of his marriage with Putin’s daughter, Katerina.
The last name, the former head of Russian Railways, was once very close to Putin; the story of his expulsion from the inner circle can be read here. The US Government’s intelligence services apparently failed to read it. They also cannot get his first name right, as he is listed at No. 94 as “Vadim Yakunin.” The Treasury paper claims to report “net worth”. That means the intelligence agents and their Russian informants who provided the raw material for the Treasury report do not know how much their list of oligarchs owe to Russian and foreign banks; how many of their assets are pledged to cover their debts; and whether their net worth is positive or negative. There is also this disclaimer which is intended as the green light for the US investment banks to continue business with the oligarchs as if there is no US war against Russia at all:
The State Department’s only press release on Russia during Monday was a complaint that a Russian Air Force interception of a US espionage aircraft in the Black Sea manoeuvered within two metres, and generated such air turbulence, it constituted an “unsafe Russian military practice.”
“This is but the latest example of Russian military activities disregarding international norms and agreements. We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions.”
According to the consensus of Russian officials in Moscow, the display of counter-force is also what has persuaded State and Treasury to end the CAATSA mission by neutralizing the required January 29 reports.
“The oligarchs didn’t win the engagement,” according to a source in a position to know, “but Putin didn’t lose it. The rules of engagement for the economic war are still being tested.”
[*] The dog which didn’t bark is the famous clue to the identity of the horse thief and the cause of his death in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” (1892). Holmes understood that watchdogs on guard bark at intruders; they don’t bark at those they recognize as master or friend.