20 years under Putin: a timeline

Imrussia.org's editor-in-chief Olga Khvostunova spoke with Daniel Fried, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, former State Department's Coordinator for Sanctions Policy, about the contents and the meaning of the "Kremlin report," which was released by the U.S. Treasury on January 29.


Atlantic Council's Daniel Fried. Photo: Open Russia.


Olga Khvostunova: What is your assessment of the U.S. Treasury’s Kremlin report? During the discussion, you basically alluded that it’s pointless, calling it a “missed opportunity.”

Daniel Fried: No, I think that the list that was made public is a missed opportunity. I think that Section 241 of CAATSA was an inspired idea. It was not my idea, so it’s not self-serving, but it was a good idea. It generated anxiety inside Russia that we should have used to send a message about the consequences of Putin’s aggression. I think that the Administration did not use that leverage. However, if Richard Nephew was right and there was serious work done on a more credible Kremlin report, then...

OK: Which is not public?

DF: Which is not public. If that’s what the classified report is—I don’t know that, I haven’t seen it, but there is a classified list, that’s now public knowledge—and if that work remains intact, then the potential leverage and the message to Russians are still intact [but a little clumsily handled].

OK: What are the actual consequences of the report if it remains, in essence, a “shaming list”?

DF: I would say it’s not... There are no immediate consequences but it serves as a cautionary note. And the message, basically, is: you are libel to be hit because of the Kremlin’s aggression against the United States and against Russia’s neighbors. There are consequences [in that sense]. That’s a pretty powerful message. You can debate whether that message will affect Putin’s behavior, you can debate how that will affect Russia’s evolution. In my judgement, it will have an accumulative effect if Russia understands that its aggression against its neighbors and its authoritarianism at home are [generating] resistance. But by its handling of this report the Trump administration missed an opportunity. We’ll see if they recover. I hope they do. 

OK: Going forward, what procedures can the Treasury use to actually sanction people on the report? Can it freeze their assets or impose other financial restrictions?

DF: The people on the report are not subject to sanctions. It is not a sanctions list. But it is a fair question to ask: under what circumstances would it move to being an actual sanctions list? And the first thing I would say is, well, you better have a list of credible people, not just everybody who is wealthy in Russia. Because if you sanction everybody, you don’t send a message, except that you are anti-Russian. That’s just stupid! Our point is not to go against Russia; our point is to combat Putin’s aggression. And I do not think that Russia is Putin and Putin is Russia. I’m not one of these people who think that Russia’s [only option] is to have a modern reactionary tsar. I don’t believe that. I think Russia is capable of something quite different.

OK: We hope so, too.

DF: That’s a different topic, but the first thing you need is a credible list of people. The second thing you need is to think through under what circumstances you would move from a simple report to actually sanctioning these people. You can argue, well, let’s do it now, you can argue let’s wait and see whether they attack us again in our elections. And that’s a reasonable discussion to have. And there are even advantages to having it in public—that is, you are solidifying consensus, then you work with the Europeans, and then it becomes a platform for a combined Western resistance to Russia’s aggression.

But that’s been complicated by the fact that what’s been made public is a discriminatory list. If everybody is on it, what are you saying? So, again, it’s a missed opportunity.


This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.