Biden wants Putin to behave. So why not go after his money?

Loyal foilsBiden administration officials claim that the past U.S. sanctions against Russia's oligarchs didn't work out as Washington had hoped, and that there is no guarantee that future ones will.Obama imposed economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs in 2014 to punish Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Gennady Timothyenko, a founder and chief executive of a large commodity trading firm in the oil-and-energy markets, was targeted. Yuri Kovalchuk is Putin's personal banker.In April 2018, the Trump administration announced similar actions against several other Russian tycoons as well as government officials. Trump's administration stated that the move was motivated by a variety of Russian activities including interference in U.S. election elections.Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum tycoon, was among those sanctioned along with companies that were connected to him. After a lobbying campaign that highlighted how sanctions had affected global metals markets, the Trump administration lifted the sanctions. Deripaska has been questioned over whether he violated the agreement that allowed the companies to be removed from the sanctions.According to administration officials and others, however, neither Trump's sanctions against Russian oligarchs nor Obama's did anything to stop Putin from attempting to undermine U.S. interests. These sanctions made it more difficult for the tycoons and their families access to American financial systems and may have increased loyalty to Putin.A senior Biden administration official stated that we have seen in many cases that the Russian state has made the oligarchs more dependent on patronage or state contracts.According to the official, it was too simplistic to call Russia's government a kleptocracy and say that Putin only cares about money. The official stated that Putin has other goals on the geopolitical stage than just enriching himself and his cronies.Analysts say that the process of developing sanctions requires certain evidence thresholds. It is not enough to be rich or friends with Putin.Others also believe that anti-Putin crusaders underestimate America's access to and knowledge of where Putin and his friends have hid their money around the globe. Even if the U.S. does manage to freeze some of the assets of Putin cronies, this person will still likely live comfortably.One former U.S. official who was familiar with the matter said that we don't really know where all the cash is. It is so hidden that you don't know where it will end up.Fear of escalationAdministration officials and analysts outside the government agree that there are many other reasons to avoid the kleptocrat crackdown right now.One thing is that the president might want to keep some leverage for later. Biden indicated that he would like to give Putin enough time to show that he is a constructive partner on issues such as ransomware. A senior Russian security official made the comment that Russia would work with the United States in order to combat cybercriminals after the June summit.It is possible that instead of acting as a deterrent slamming sanctions against Putin's wealthy friends could cause an escalating circle of retaliation. Even actions that are somewhat less than Putin's control, such as reducing Putin's power base by making it more difficult for his friends to access their money, could cause Russia's economic problems. This could eventually lead to a decline in the US economy.If taken to their extreme, moves that could result in Putin's fall might be even more dangerous. The U.S. government is aware of the danger that Russia's vast arsenal of nuclear weapons could fall to the wrong hands, recalling the post-Cold War chaos.Biden has decades of experience in foreign policy and has never trusted Putin (a former KGB officer). Analysts and ex-officials said that the president understands the larger geostrategic calculations involved.According to a former U.S. official, President Biden will not attempt to personalize the situation with Putin. It will only be in a targeted and narrow way that gloves are being taken off.Analytical paralysisMany Putin critics believe that this is not enough.They claim that the United States has not sanctioned enough Putin cronies or even the right ones. They also dismissed the idea that sanctions against the oligarchs have made any difference. They claim that Putin could have done more to frustrate America without these penalties.Browder stated that Putin has not pulled out of Ukraine. But how much territory would it have taken if we hadn't sanctioned the Oligarchs?Russian dissidents connected to Navalny's poisoning and detention have prompted its own U.S. Sanctions on Moscow. With more to come, the Biden administration now has a list of 35 people it wants to target. This list also includes oligarchs and alleged human rights violators. Many of those on the list are already subject to U.S. sanctions.According to Leonid Volkov (a Navalny aide who met with a variety of high-ranking figures in Washington this year), U.S. officials appear willing to look at the list.They have made it clear that they don't want to continue with the sanctions on their own, and they are willing to work with partners.Volkov agreed that coordinated sanctions would be stronger than the United States acting on its own, particularly considering how many Russian tycoons have their money in Europe and real estate. He also pointed out that coordination is time-consuming and could be hampered by Putin-friendly world leaders.Navalnys foundation will continue to pursue its investigations and compile evidence packs for the Biden team and other teams, in case they decide to pursue Russia's kleptocrats or their friend at the Kremlin.Volkov stated that we are arguing that this must be a priority.Browder stated that Biden's team reminded Browder of Obama's years when many of the same officials overanalyzed situations to the point where they appeared timid, if not frozen. Obama was also keen to avoid an escalation with Moscow.All of these people are great policy wonks. Browder stated that they are not gunslingers but policy wonks. While this is a positive thing in many ways, sometimes you still need gunslingers.