A prominent Russian oligarch is still missing from the US sanctions list

The White House on Thursday announced a new wave of sanctions against more than 400 Russian elites, including 328 members of Russia’s parliament, the Duma. But one figure remains absent subscribers: Roman Abramovich.

European and Canadian authorities have already sanctioned the billionaire, who is widely known to own Chelsea football club. But so far the US has not followed suit, even though Abramovich holds a range of US assets that could be seized – including a $50million estate near Aspen and financial ties apparently deep with American financiers.

The sanctioning of so-called oligarchs – wealthy Russians with strong political connections – comes as the US and the West try to impose ‘maximum pain’ on Russia to penalize it for its invasion of Ukraine . The United States has also banned imports of Russian oil and played a role in removing Russian banks from SWIFT, essentially cutting them off from international transactions.

Roman Abramovich, smiles after a victory for Chelsea FC in May 2021 in Portugal. (Alexander Hassenstein – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

So far, Abramovich has apparently escaped the economic wrath of the United States because of the role he could play in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded on 24 February. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that none other than Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was behind saving his US assets for now.

The Treasury Department had apparently even prepared sanctions. But he pulled out after a phone call between President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy, who apparently hopes Abramovich will facilitate peace talks.

The billionaire’s good fortune also allowed him to keep two luxury yachts last seen in Turkey. One ship, “The Eclipse”, is one of the largest yachts in the world, for which Abramovich reportedly paid $590 million in 2009. Other Russian yacht owners were not so lucky.

“He has participated”

Abramovich said he was trying to push Moscow to find a peaceful solution, and the Kremlin acknowledged that he had indeed played an early role in the peace talks.

“He participated in the initial stage,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

But now Russia says it is negotiating directly with Ukraine.

Eclipse, a superyacht linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, is moored in Marmaris, Turkey March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik

The ‘Eclipse’, a superyacht linked to Roman Abramovich, is seen in Marmaris, Turkey, March 22. (REUTERS/Yoruk Isik)

Thursday’s full list of new US sanctions recipients includes the 328 members of the Duma; the head of Sberbank, Herman Gref; oligarch Gennady Timchenko; and 17 members of the board of the Russian financial institution Sovcombank.

The United States and its allies also announced a new Sanctions Circumvention Initiative aimed at stopping those trying to circumvent existing measures.

“Our goal here is to methodically remove the advantages and privileges that Russia once enjoyed as a participant in the international economic order,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Many of the U.S. announcements on Thursday will bring the United States more in line with other EU or G7 countries, the official said.

Abramovich largely amassed his fortune after the collapse of the Soviet Union by leveraging ties to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Putin. In recent years Abramovich has become increasingly well known in the UK and throughout the West. Forbes pegs his current fortune at $7.3 billion, making him the 142nd richest person in the world.

On March 2, after the start of the invasion but before the announcement of British sanctions against him, he announced his intention to sell his London football club, Chelsea FC. The sanctions came a few days later and froze Abramovich’s assets, although the club was allowed to continue playing.

Abramovich was unable to completely escape Western action. The Commerce Department announced the grounding of 100 planes – including Abramovich’s – which it says violated sanctions while flying recently in Russia.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Abramovich announced his intention to sell Chelsea FC after the sanctions against him were announced. In fact, he announced his intention to sell the team after the invasion of Ukraine began, but before the UK announced sanctions on its assets.

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