Putin laughs off Washington’s ‘Kremlin list’

“I am offended, you know,” Putin joked

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday laughed off a US list of Russians tapped for possible sanctions, joking that he was offended his name was not on it, but nevertheless branded it an “unfriendly act”.

The 65-year-old Russian leader — who is running for re-election in March presidential polls — said the US move would further worsen ties.

At the same time, he sought to make light of the list — widely expected to send shivers through Moscow’s financial elites — adding Russia would not reciprocate for now.

“I am offended, you know,” Putin told his supporters with a smile, citing a famous line from a popular Soviet-era movie.

The president said he had not seen the list so far and quoted the old Oriental proverb “the dogs bark but the caravan goes on” in an effort to play down the significance of Washington’s report.

The US Treasury on Monday released the long-awaited list of Russian officials — led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — and business people singled out for sanctions under a law designed to punish Moscow for its alleged meddling in the election that brought Donald Trump to power.

The report, which features 96 people considered “oligarchs” close to Putin and worth at least $1 billion (805 million euros) each, does not trigger sanctions right away but may cut businesses off from world finance.

– Significance ‘is zero’ –

Putin said the Kremlin list was a blow to not only the government and business circles, but to the entire country.

“Essentially, all of us, everyone out of the 146 million people have been put on some sort of list,” Putin told his supporters in televised remarks.

Putin said the release of the list further complicated US-Russia ties as well as international relations in general.

He said Russia was ready to take “serious” reciprocal measures but would refrain from doing so for now.

“We are not interested in curtailing our ties with the United States,” he said.

“We are not going to look for trouble, (and) aggravate relations,” he said. “We know what we want. We want to build long-term, stable ties based on international law.”

Putin is widely expected to win a fourth presidential term in March, extending his Kremlin rule until 2024 and becoming the longest-serving Russian leader since dictator Joseph Stalin.

Prime Minister Medvedev struck a similar note, joking that all those who did not find their names on the US list should resign.

“The significance of this list is zero,” Medvedev said at a news conference, speaking to reporters alongside Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Medvedev said the publication of the report “poisons our ties”, adding that Russia would respond if the US moved to introduce sanctions against those on the list.

The seven-page unclassified report also includes the names of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and energy giant Rosneft’s chief executive Igor Sechin, who is considered by many to be Russia’s second most powerful man.

A separate, classified annex lists lower-ranking government officials or Russians worth less than a billion dollars.

– ‘US enemies’ –

Speaking earlier Tuesday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was important not to give in to “emotions” even if targeting Russia’s highest leadership was “quite unprecedented”.

All those on the list, Peskov said, “have been de facto called enemies of the US”.

Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow following Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and Moscow’s meddling in eastern Ukraine.

Tensions between the two countries have grown despite US President Trump’s promises to mend fences between the former Cold War-era enemies.

US intelligence agencies concluded in late 2016 that Putin had directed a broad effort to influence the presidential election that year.

Putin for his part sought to turn the tables on Washington, claiming the US wanted to see Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – who is barred from standing in the March election — elected president.

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