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21 Mar, 2023 10:46

Ex-US envoy wants Russian billionaires to pay their way out of sanctions

Donating 90% of their wealth to Ukraine should trigger exemption from Western blacklists, Michael McFaul has suggested
Ex-US envoy wants Russian billionaires to pay their way out of sanctions

Russian billionaires should be removed from Western sanctions lists if they donate most of their wealth to Ukraine, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has suggested. He stressed that the idea is not supported by the Ukrainian government, to which he serves as an adviser.

McFaul was speaking in an interview with Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar, former editor-in-chief of the self-exiled Dozhd (Rain) TV channel, during which he claimed that “all billionaires in Russia should be on the sanctions list.”

The US and its allies have imposed personal sanctions on dozens of wealthy Russians, accusing them of having close ties to the Kremlin. The individuals face asset freezes, travel bans, and other restrictions. Instead of deciding on a case-by-case basis, McFaul argued that there should be blanket sanctions against wealthy Russians.

However, the former diplomat added that “the problem with sanctions today is once you are on it, there is virtually no mechanism to get off.” He proposed setting several conditions under which Russian billionaires could curry favour in the West.

According to him, they would have to publicly condemn the Russian government for its military operation in Ukraine, vow never to invest in Russia again, and donate the majority of their wealth to Kiev for reconstruction efforts. He claimed that a donation of 90% of their wealth would be appropriate, acknowledging that these were “very high bars” but asserting that it was a reasonable price to pay.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on the proposal on Tuesday, suggesting that any entrepreneurs who have “both feet planted on Russian soil” would not take the idea seriously.

McFaul is a professor at Stanford University, and previously served as Washington’s top diplomat in Moscow under President Barack Obama. He has been on Russia’s list of sanctioned American nationals since at least 2016. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at the time that the restriction was imposed for the former envoy’s “deliberate damage” to bilateral relations.

McFaul stressed that the payment idea was his personal opinion, and that neither Russian “oligarchs” nor the Ukrainian government would agree to it. He currently serves on an advisory body that helps Kiev formulate requests to foreign backers on how they should pressure the Russian government.

The former diplomat separately explained the same idea in a Substack post, although he set the proposed donation benchmark at 50% of a billionaire’s wealth, rather than 90%.

McFaul’s suggestion emerged as he and Zygar discussed a letter reportedly advocating the removal of sanctions from several executives at Russia’s Alfa Group, including co-owners Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven.

The letter was allegedly sent to senior EU officials and was purportedly signed by several prominent pro-Western Russian public figures, including a close associate of jailed politician Alexey Navalny. The leaking of the communication in early March caused a major scandal in Russian opposition circles, as some reasoned that the signatories may have been financially incentivized.