Russian governors should also be sanctioned – POLITICO

Ivan UK Klyszcz is a researcher at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute.

Since February, Europe has broken many of its taboos when it comes to sanctioning Russia, with slow but positive results in crippling Moscow’s war machine. On October 8, the European Commission adopted its eighth sanctions package, the scope and timeliness of which send a strong message, showing Europe united in facing Russia’s war of aggression.

But more can and should be done, and one area where action is lacking is in individual sanctions against Russian governors.

These governors are high government officials and they use their authority to allow Russia to go to war. They are incentivized to act as facilitators – gubernatorial elections in Russia are a farce, as the Kremlin ultimately decides who gets nominated. For this reason, governors and future governors must curry favor with Moscow; and even if they don’t cheer publicly, they help legitimize the invasion and support the war effort.

So far, governors have played a vital role in providing manpower for the front. Even before the « partial » mobilization decree, they had diverted regional budgets to battalions of « volunteer » personnel – 40 such battalions had been formed across the federation by August.

Meanwhile, since the mobilization decree, Russian governors have acted as coordinators between civil and military authorities to carry out the project. They also had to deal with the social fallout of the mobilization, such as containing protests and dealing with growing arson attacks on state buildings.

We’ve also seen governors stretch their regional budgets, so they can offer incentives for volunteers and conscripts to enlist or compensation for death or injury. Even the poorest regions are expected to put the needs of their constituents after those of war.

Governors were also instructed to send tons of « aid » to the occupied territories. In the past, Russia has used these « aid convoys » as propaganda or as a cover to deliver weapons and supplies to the front line. There is no guarantee that these goods will be delivered to populations in need, but we know that some have been used to feed the poorly supplied Russian occupying forces.

Moreover, these officials served as conduits for the Kremlin to transfer funds to the occupation authorities. Besides simple money transfers, many Russian regions are also involved in the « reconstruction » of occupied Ukrainian territories, a process that benefits the Russian companies involved.

Finally, several Russian governors have visited or organized delegations to the occupied territories of Ukraine. These visits are for propaganda purposes, mainly to attract the Russian public.

As such, the European Union and other supporters of Ukraine should seriously consider extending individual sanctions to Russian governors. Currently, only a handful of them face international sanctions, with the worst offenders – such as Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya and Sergei Sobyanin of Moscow – well covered by foreign travel bans and asset freezes. . But other governors should also be targeted.

The purpose of sanctioning governors is to try to limit their ability to spread Russian propaganda and restrict their access to resources. Freezing assets could critically limit their ability to serve as conduits or proxies for money transfers, including for sanctions-busting. At the same time, countries that do not sanction Russia would also be deterred from dealing with Russian regions due to the potential risk of associating with sanctioned individuals.

In the end, the sanctions do not backfire. Nor can it be expected that contacts at the governor’s level can result in productive diplomatic channels to Moscow. Although such contacts have been made in the past, large-scale warfare has raised the stakes beyond these moves, and due to centralization governors are now often reduced to political enforcers and cannot be considered to act autonomously from the Kremlin.

Such sanctions would send a strong message that Europe is united in respecting international standards. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aides – even those lower in the chain of command – are still responsible for the atrocities committed by their troops. It’s time to make it clear.

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